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3 reviews, 2 user ratings

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Watch, The
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by Brett Gallman

"The lazy, middle-class American answer to Attack the Block."
2 stars

Whether they belong in one stable or not, I just kind of throw all of these Apatow guys together--the Evan Goldbergs, the Seth Rogens, the David Gordon Greens, the Justin Therouxs, etc. of the world, all of whom come off as guys who really like making movies based on stuff they watched as kids and injecting them with more raunchiness. Maybe that’s reductive, but there it is. Anyway, Goldberg and Rogen are partially responsible for “The Watch,” as they polished (read: farted up, and I generally mean as a compliment) Jared Stern’s original script, and it ends up feeling like “The ’Burbs” by way of 80s kids (whereas Joe Dante was clearly influenced by classic Universal stuff), so it’s a grosser, bawdier version of goofy middle-class guys poking around suburbia--but it’s still just a little too white-bread to leave much of a taste in your mouth, no matter how hard it’s trying to stuff it with a big dick-n-fart joke sandwich.

Evan Trautwig (Ben Stiller) is one of those guys who takes the whole American suburban dream thing a little too seriously since he’s maybe the only person who’s proud of ascending the ranks in Costco. He’s the store manager after a twelve year saga that began with him as a lowly clerk, so now he gets to lock up the store and chum around with the Latino night watchman (Joe Nunez) who just became a U.S. citizen. The victory is short-lived for poor Antonio and his fresh, gaudy American flag tattoo when an alien invades the Costco and tears off his flesh, thus interrupting his “Career Opportunities” style celebration.

Because this is heartland America (Ohio, to be exact), this sort of thing shouldn’t happen, so Evan vows to track down Antonio’s killer by forming a neighborhood watch with Bob (Vince Vaughn), Franklin (Jonah Hill), and JaMarcus (Richard Ayoade), three guys who are either just as disconnected from reality or simply don’t care.

“The Watch” mostly sticks to the script from there, as it’s a bro movie not so cleverly masquerading as an alien invasion flick. Or maybe I should say it sticks to multiple scripts since it apparently underwent more than a few rewrites, which is evident not only in the plot turns (this has one of the most lazily scripted twists and third-act catalysts in recent memory), but also the mish-mash of tones. Sometimes, Akiva Schaffer thinks he’s making a gross-out horror comedy and splatters around hollowed-out corpses and alien slime, and there’s an honest-to-god dude in a rubber suit (Doug Jones!) parading around like it’s 1959, which is kind of great. During these sequences, the film doesn’t even look like a typically underlit Hollywood comedy but more like a slick, glossy genre movie, especially when the guys leave the cozy confines of the suburbs for the foggy, creepy backwoods (which is home to one of the film’s better cameos in R. Lee Ermey).

Whenever it’s back in the ‘burbs, though, “The Watch” takes time out for lame sitcom subplots--Evan’s struggling to reveal his infertility to his wife, while Bob’s worried about his teenage daughter getting felt up and tongued by a meathead who proudly buys magnum sized rubbers. One of these at two suplots at least pays off in the film’s dick-ripping finale (though both involve dicks at various points), but as the neighborhood drama started to overpower the movie, I missed the brief glimpses of the “Slither” style horror movie that Schaffer offered earlier.

He also bungles a chance to craft a smart, funny satire using body snatcher tropes once the neighborhood watch starts suspecting those around them of being an alien in human skin. Evan is introduced as one of those white guys who has to point out that he has ethnic friends, and he almost literally thinks the world shouldn’t exist beyond the suburbs. If all of that doesn’t sound like ripe material for a trenchant critique of American xenophobia and insularity, then I don’t know what does. Instead of any of that, we just get a silly romp where the good-natured idiots get a chance to play hero in their custom jackets (emblazoned with a tiger, fire, and wings--the Chinese symbol for gaudiness, I think). Whereas body snatching once served as an allegory for the Red Scare, now it’s an extended setup for penis jokes.

Maybe that’s just as well since “The Watch” is a movie about man-boys being man-boys with some familiar performances and some weirder, more memorable turns that make the movie just off-kilter enough. You could switch Stiller and Vaughn out with their 2002 counterparts without missing a beat--the former is still stuck in the “Meet the Parents” well-intentioned do-gooder who can’t catch a break mold, while the latter might as well just be the guy from “Old School” here to wreak even more havoc now that he’s further into middle-age. These two are a couple of the (I think) dozen names that have been thrown out there for “Ghostbusters 3,” and this is probably the closest we’ll come to seeing these two humorously react to supernatural events (and perhaps an indication that, hey, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea after all).

Since Stiller and Vaughn are the old guard, it makes sense that they’re the (somewhat corroding) anchors to give Hill and Ayoade room to carve out something a little bit more daring. Hill’s been around long enough now that he could have his own tired shtick by now, but he’s actually playing a borderline sociopath that was rejected by the local police force, so he keeps a cache of weapons under his bed and carries himself like a 50s greaser, with a switchblade in tow and everything. His grudge against the force is pretty funny, and he’s the loose cannon in the film that could use more of them. Less familiar is Ayoade, whose deadpan quirkiness brings a strange energy to each scene, as if he realizes he’s the British black guy stuck in a most improbable place. By default, he’s one of the funniest elements here, but I’ll take that as a minor victory considering how familiar the whole thing feels.

The four never quite coalesce together, and, if there’s any glue keeping this shaky thing together, it’s the quick-burst weirdness of the supporting cast. In addition to Ermey (doing another turbo-charged riff on “Full Metal Jacket”), the leads are surrounded by Will Forte as the oblivious sergeant (which makes Hill’s rejection from the force all the more absurd), Mel Rodriguez as his even more clueless, dumpy deputy, and Billy Crudup, who wanders in with the most delightfully odd turn as Evan’s new neighbor, a gangly, leering Buffalo Bill type who’s planted to arouse suspicion in a movie where the leads suspect people to be an alien.

Such obviousness is symptomatic of “The Watch.” Given the way the film was cobbled together, it’s difficult to pin it all on just one person behind the scenes, and it’s not like I’m eager to point the blame since I generally like everyone involved--even producer Sean Levy (whose street-cred is forever locked in after appearing in “Zombie Nightmare”). “The Watch” is apparently his brain-child, and it squirmed and mutated along the way into this amorphous, flavorless blob; had Goldberg and Rogen managed to turn it into an actual genre movie like “Your Highness,” which was a real sword and sorcery movie (as re-imagined by 14 year olds), “The Watch” might have fared a little bit better.

As it stands, though, it’s the type of movie that seems kind of ballsy for the suburbs but not all that ballsy compared to other movies most of these guys have been attached to. It’ll probably be lumped in with all the other ill-fated attempts to recreate “Ghostbusters” when it should have been trying to recreate “Night of the Creeps" instead.

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originally posted: 07/27/12 13:04:20
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User Comments

10/12/13 mr.mike Good home vid rental. 4 stars
8/29/12 Pedro Rafael Cruz Funny as Hell-Loved it! 4 stars
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  27-Jul-2012 (R)
  DVD: 13-Nov-2012


  DVD: 13-Nov-2012

Directed by
  Akiva Schaffer

Written by
  Evan Goldberg
  Seth Rogen

  Ben Stiller
  Vince Vaughn

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