There’s one thing that I’ve never fully understood about monster movies. Why is it that every time a hapless hero or potential victim comes across a mysterious gooey substance, they have to touch it with their bare hands? I realize that not everyone is as OCD as I am, but imagine you just hit a mysterious creature on the road, late at night. You didn’t get a good look at it, and all you see on the front of your car is a semen-like green slime and what appears to be a giant octopus tentacle. Is your first reaction really, “Dude, I gotta get that sh*t on my fingers?” Who does this?
The cast of The Watch does this, that’s who. And while it hardly ruins this new bromantic alien-fighting comedy, it’s all I could think about for half the running time. Every time they encounter an inexplicable excretion they dip their fingers inside of it, and I just can’t get behind that. And when this is the deepest thought you have while watching a movie, it’s fair to say that you don’t have a classic on your hands.
The Watch is a perfectly pleasant, occasionally funny motion picture that never quite comes into its own. Perhaps that’s because it’s actually two movies vying for the same screen time. The first movie is about a group of suburban men who use their local neighborhood watch as an escape from their desperate househusbandry, in which their male bonding brings them together as a group and allows each member to evolve on an individual level as well. The second movie is about a local neighborhood watch that gets in over its head when aliens invade their sleepy town. Both movies would be perfectly fine on their own, but jamming them together in such an awkward fashion makes The Watch feel like less than the sum of its parts.
Ben Stiller plays Evan Trautwig, a CostCo manager who responds to the violent death of one of his employees by starting a local neighborhood watch. The apathetic town yields only three volunteers: Jonah Hill, who sees “The Watch” as an opportunity for vigilante justice after his application to the police department was rejected, Vince Vaughn, a boisterous man-child who just wants an excuse to get out of the house once in a while, and Richard Ayoade, of “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace,” who hopes that being a local hero will earn him a bit of grateful fellatio down the road. Together they band together and mostly fail to make much of an impact – egged as they are by teenagers and mocked by the local authorities – at least until the aliens arrive.
The fairly likable but rather forgettable buddy comedy motif mawkishly coalesces with a kind of middle-aged Attack the Block at this point, and the alchemy never quite yields gold. The plot gets broad, but the character arcs remain rooted in the same schtick Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller have been tooling with for years, keeping The Watch from feeling distinctive. The sci-fi gets in the way of the male bonding, the bonding prevents the sci-fi from getting too exciting. The entire film has a lackadaisical pace that makes the buddy comedy feel padded and the action feel like an afterthought.
It never feels like The Watch is its own film. Instead it feels like these actors, some of whom are very funny here (particularly Ayoade, if only because his comedic persona is relatively fresh compared to his co-stars's), just felt like making a movie that particular month and this script happened to be available. And that’s okay. The Watch is watchable, but it never goes beyond that. Nobody involved seems to be giving 110%, but at 60% it’s still a mostly harmless time at the movies… if don’t value your time too much.