Review: The Watch (2012)

Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Richard Ayoade star in comedy The Watch where neighbourhood watch members get more than they bargain for....

After a grisly crime occurs at his store, manager Evan (Ben Stiller) forms a neighborhood watch to investigate and protect his community in The Watch. The group soon finds themselves in over their heads and must face more than just teenage troublemakers as an alien invasion begins…

Together, the ensemble cast makeup the focus of the film, with their conflicts and mutual interests creating an odd group dynamic. As usual, Ben Stiller plays an uptight, controlling and repressed character, constantly seeking approval from his new friends without wishing to relinquish control of his task force. This tired performance is old-hat for him, which (despite his talent for it) is unfulfilling, as it has been seen in most of his recent works.

As we discover, each member of the group has their own reason for joining. Jonah Hill plays the militant Franklin, a psychologically unstable reject of the Glenview police department looking for trouble. As usual, Hill’s performance is reliable yet dull, almost a paint by numbers comedy depiction of this type of character. The same can be said for newcomer to American comedy Richard Ayoade.

Fresh from his directorial success with Submarine, Ayoade plays the typical Brit in American movies; odd and unaware of social boundaries across the pond. However, at times this works in his favour, often getting the funniest lines delivered in the way that only he can. Fans of Channal 4’s IT Crowd will be happy to see him on good form.

However, it is the surprising performance of Vince Vaughn that holds the waning chemistry of the group together. His portrayal of a father struggling to protect his teenage daughter from boys, and all other things a parent must deal with, is unexpectedly effective. Vaughn’s work in the past could be considered to be very much the same over several projects, but here the actor manages to steal the spotlight, with his performance skillfully towing the line between comedy (which, of course, he does very well) and real emotional investment. He is the typical American everyday man but not in the aggressive or confrontational way that is often seen.

It is his performance however that does draw attention to the central issue with the film, namely the conflict between the two narratives. As the film’s central plot of an alien invasion of small town America is played out, it is countered by what could be a film in itself: a humorous character study into the troubles faced by men in domestic environment. Vaughn and Stiller’s characters particularly are the focus of this, one with a troublesome relationship with his daughter and the latter with a declining marriage. The scenes that deal with these issues are often the best of the film, but as one gets more emotionally invested, the film cuts back to the other storyline and, whilst often providing some of the best laughs and being done with certain aplomb, it is not as interesting.

The hard work of Vaughn in particular is dispatched too quickly in favour of the spectacle of the third act. Whilst this is certainly entertaining and picks the film up to an exciting tempo from the subdued yet involving pace of before, the previous focus seemed more on the relationships between the characters, an endeavor which is abandoned too abruptly.

Despite this muddled structure, The Watch still has its comedy to fall back on. Richard Ayoade’s performance as the odd Brit abroad draws a lot of the opening laughs, but with a name like Jamarcus this is unsurprising. Whilst there are some cheap laughs that let the film down, the film mostly keeps on a good level of comedy, with each of the central cast doing their part as primarily comedic actors. If only the same effort had gone into the writing of the film, which seems extremely lazy at times, with perhaps the most unimaginative reason for an alien invasion to ever grace cinema screens.

If audiences read into the film further than is perhaps appropriate, there are some extremely questionable issues present on popular US immigration opinions, as ‘aliens’ are seen to be invading the hearts and minds of suburban America. However, Invasion of the Body Snatchers this is not and so to only read the film in this way is possibly unfair.

Whilst the film has some genuinely funny moments, the conflict between the central action-packed narrative and the moments of character exposition involving male domesticity and parenthood work against each other instead of to their mutual advantage. The cast seems to lack the chemistry needed for this type of buddy comedy, but Vince Vaughn’s surprising turn as a father figure and friend to all holds the performances together. With less of a conflict between the two aspects of the film’s story, The Watch could have been a much better film. However, it is still entertaining and an enjoyable viewing experience.

Best bit: Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn discussing marriage and parenthood on a park bench. May not seem appropriate for a sci-fi comedy, but is surprisingly emotional and provides one of the biggest laughs of the film.

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