Wednesday, July 25, 2012

It’s Not Exactly Men In Black, But The Watch Is Very Funny.

The Good: Funny, Generally decent special effects, Performances are fine
The Bad: Predictable plot progression, Lighter on character than I would like.
The Basics: The Watch is a funny science fiction comedy that ultimately lacks the character/heart to make it worth watching more than once.

I can only imagine how director Avika Schaffer and the three writers of the piece (one of whom is Seth Rogan!) have dreaded the reviews of their film The Watch for the inevitable comparisons reviewers will make to Men In Black. Figuring that, I put Men In Black right in the title and at less than 100 words in, I’m referencing it because there is a comparison to be made and the target audience is the same. Men In Black (reviewed here!) revitalized the science fiction comedy in a way that made The Watch a feasible success.

The truth, however, is that The Watch is the hard “R” version of Men In Black with characters who are more the bumbling idiots or psychopaths as opposed to the professionals of MIB. Outside the plotting and special effects, The Watch has more in common with The Hangover (reviewed here!) and Super than it does Men In Black.

Evan is a very organized, but entirely fearful man whose friend was murdered. Trying to keep busy to avoid the pain and to prevent violence in the suburbs where he lives with his wife, Abby, Evan forms a neighborhood watch. The group comes together with Evan, Bob – a father of a teen daughter who he feels the need to keep an eye on -, Jamarcus – a divorce hoping to become part of the local community and get some action, and Franklin, the somewhat disturbed younger man who was psychologically unfit to be a police officer. The neighborhood watch they form quickly becomes more of an excuse to get together, drink, and develop a friendship.

After an incident where the quartet runs into an alien with green blood (that they initially mistake for an octopus), the four discover an alien weapon and soon find their otherwise peaceful neighborhood as ground zero for an alien invasion. As they take it upon themselves to rid the neighborhood of the extraterrestrials, they get in over their head and discover they might not be up to stopping the big threat.

The Watch rapidly loses its connection to Men In Black on the character front. First, Men In Black worked so well because of the “buddy cop” dynamic between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. The Watch does not have that. While the movie focuses more on Ben Stiller’s Evan and Vince Vaughn’s Bob, the two are not so completely different. As a result, they tend to play off Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade well, but The Watch lacks the instant charm of the chemistry between the leads; it is much more of an ensemble piece.

To be fair, it is very clear from the language, situations, and some of the effects that The Watch is not trying to simply retread Men In Black. Instead, it is going for hard core humor, trying to tap the market of people who grew up on Men In Black for an escapist piece that is more in line with where they are today. This is readily apparent by how irresponsibly the men of The Watch use the alien technology when they come across it. That they are eager to test the destructive capability of the alien weapons is very much “guy humor” and it is much more likely to appeal to those looking for a good laugh than it is to anyone looking for sensibility. In other words, The Watch gladly trades in any potential for a smart science fiction film in favor of getting the riotous laugh.

And The Watch is funny, but in a very obvious, expected way. In recent years, with movies like Observe And Report mixing violence and humor, there has been a bar that keeps getting pushed for risqué humor that often has a dark quality to it. The Watch treads in that tradition and many of the jokes have to do with drugs, violence, talking about sex, and utilizing foul language. And it’s funny, but the appeal is pretty limited and my experience has been that it does not replay especially well. Instead, by the end of The Watch many of the jokes are ones that the viewer can see coming.

On the acting front, The Watch is pretty solidly average. Ben Stiller has proven he can do serious and with The Watch he stays in his more deadpan mode than doing anything zany. Vince Vaughn gives viewers nothing new with his deliveries or performance as Bob and Franklin could be any number of Jonah Hill characters. The Watch was my first experience with the works of Richard Ayoade and he was funny in a dry, quietly ridiculous way. His talent seems to be for keeping a straight face while delivering some of the most questionable and offensive dialogue in the film, but he does that very well.

Ultimately, The Watch is undeniably average-at-best. It is a summer popcorn movie that wants to be this year’s The Hangover. Sadly, it lacks the charm even for that.

For other science fiction comedies, please check out my reviews of:
Galaxy Quest
Men In Black 3


For other movie reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the films I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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