"The Watch" is the story of four average guys on a quest to protect their neighborhood from thugs, criminals and alien invaders. There's action, sex and intrigue. It stars four comedy masterminds, and Seth Rogen shares a writing credit. Shawn Levy is on board as a producer. It should have been comedic gold. What was delivered on-screen is an uneven mess that doesn't quite live up to the sum of its parts.
Ben Stiller leads the cast as Evan, the leader of the Watch. A good-natured control freak, Evan is married, doesn't have kids and proudly serves as the manager of the local Costco. He's the kind of guy who means well, but is difficult to be around because "Plan B" isn't his strong point. The restrained role is something of a departure from Stiller's typical portrayals, focusing more on subdued frustration than manic craziness.
Playing opposite Stiller is Vince Vaughn as Bob, the family man. Bob is having a midlife crisis. His teenage daughter has discovered boys and sex, and it's freaking him out. As a result, he's retreated to his man-cave and joined the Watch. Ostensibly, he wants to protect the neighborhood, but deep down, he just wants to protect his little girl. Of all the characters in the movie, Bob comes across as the most honest and the most genuinely likeable due to his boyish naiveté.
Oddly, Jonah Hill's tough-talking Franklin is the most forgettable of all the characters in the film. It's as if the character was written solely to be the oddball. Sure, he does quirky things, but all of it seems forced and contrived. If the character of Franklin were to be removed entirely, the movie would remain essentially unchanged.
The biggest surprised of the film, and the one real highlight, is Richard Ayoade. Best known for his portrayal of Maurice Moss on the British comedy "The IT Crowd," Ayoade brings his deadpan timing and bubbly British accent to the character of Jamarcus. Recently divorced, looking to fit in with the group and certainly looking for a lady (or two), Ayoade's Jamarcus dominates every scene he's in.
Watching "The Watch" with a packed theater was an interesting experience because it highlighted the key weakness of the film: The pacing is not consistent. Individual scenes ran the gamut from absolutely hilarious to incredibly dull, but there was little in the way of flow from one to the next. Rather than feel like a coherent whole, "The Watch" plays out like a handful of really awesome skits with generic filler covering the gaps from one to the next.
This was punctuated to great effect by the audience, as one minute, the whole theater would be roaring with laughter and the next, there would be dead silence. You could practically feel the crowd waiting for the film to find its footing, embracing each positive sign with enthusiasm, only to be disappointed when it missed another opportunity to shine.
It isn't until the final act that "The Watch" starts to pick up steam and really click as a coherent whole. From a story perspective, there are no surprises, but the execution of the final scene tops everything else in the film, mostly because it is completely over the top in every regard.
Perhaps the biggest mistake made by the director of "The Watch" is assuming that every joke needs to be beaten to death to be funny. Audiences aren't dumb. They get it. The best films make a joke and move on without lingering unnecessarily. Overloading the audience with a single topic isn't amusing, it's boring.
Ultimately, "The Watch" is the classic cable TV film. It's a great thing to have on in the background when you're at home, but it's not something worth dropping coin for in the theater. This is one case where the trailer really does contain all of the best moments from the movie.
"The Watch" is rated R and has a running time of 1 hours and 42 minutes. It is showing in 2-D.
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