The development process and lead up to the release of The Watch, a new comedy starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade has been a disaster. We should have seen the final product coming.
Originally titled Neighborhood Watch, the film’s marketing and title was changed to simply The Watch in May by Twentieth Century Fox to distance itself from the Treyvon Martin murder case in which the teenager was shot by a Neighborhood watch captain. The first draft of the script was written by Jared Stern who wanted it to be this generation’s Ghostbusters. Monsters and comedy collide with the great comedy actors on screen delivering the dialogue. What could go wrong? Apparently his script’s jokes. Because Fox brought in the big guns, aka Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, co-writers of Superbad and Pineapple Express to bring a more adult-oriented approach to the film.
What ensued was a catastrophe both on the page and on the screen. I can’t believe a Hollywood production company would look at this script and agree that it’s good enough to put into production. What jokes did work, were clearly added on by Rogen and Goldberg and worked because they were delivered by some of the best comedic actors working right now. The film was directed by Akiva Schaffer whose only other feature film is Hot Rod, which gets more credit than it deserves (none.) He is however one third of The Lonely Island crew which started the SNL Digital Short segment on Saturday Night Live and he has directed a few of those including their most famous, Lazy Sunday. Look for a cameo of all three of The Lonely Island late in The Watch if you decide to check it out.
Ben Stiller is our lead character and narrator, he lives in a great town, is active in the community, and is a manager at the local Costco. He lives a great life until he finds out that one night his night security guard was brutally murdered by something that leaks green goo. So when the police go on TV and say the citizens need to do more to help out (lazy screenwriting) he goes to a high school football game and asks people to show up at his house and form a Neighborhood Watch group.
Vince Vaughn is pretty much the same guy he always plays, which is fine for this character. He plays a guy that wants the group to just be a social group, or a group of guys to just play poker with. There are a couple of legitimate gut busting laugh moments when he goes on his fast talking ranting moments. It almost seems like improvisation, like ideas (or in one scene, questions) are coming into his head and he is just letting them leave his mouth without thinking, “Should I be saying this?” Needless to say, I’m a fan of Vaughn and so those were my favorite scenes and there were too few of them, instead we focus on his struggle with raising a teenage daughter. Who cares?
Jonah Hill was also a standout, coming off of another good comedy 21 Jump Street, I liked him as the guy that’s joining the group because he got turned down from the regular police because of “mental issues.” He delivers some funny lines here and there and looks good firing a gun in slow-mo once again.
Richard Ayoade is a new comer for most viewers. He’s a comedian out of England who’s best known for his work on The IT Crowd, a British sitcom. He is solid here and has good comedic delivery, however he doesn’t get as much screen time as the others. He joins The Watch because he is a recent divorcee looking to meet new people and get a certain fantasy fulfilled. To which Jonah Hill’s character responds, “I’d also be interested in that happening to me, as well.”
The acting in The Watch isn’t the problem at all. I thought all of the leads did a fine job in their roles, they were occasionally funny and each brought a different approach to The Neighborhood Watch.
This movie gets a major “Whatever…” from me because, while there are funny moments, most of them are in the trailer and it seemed like it didn’t know what kind of movie it wanted to be. It was written by two different writers and it shows. There are times where it’s a science-fiction movie with guys shooting aliens and kind of humorous and then times where they are sitting around making jokes and riffing off of each other, ala Old School or Superbad. It’s a mess, script wise, and it’s too bad because the performances from Stiller, Vaughn, Hill, and Ayoade are wasted.