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Watch, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Keep Watching The Cul-De-Sac!!!"
1 stars

As many people have noted over the years, comedy and large-scale special effects are two great tastes that don't often taste great together when put together cinematically. A movie chock-full of elaborate visuals and complicated stunts needs an enormous amount of advance planning and discipline in order to succeed while a comedy, no matter how rigidly scripted it may be, needs to convey a looser, jazzier feel that makes it seem as if the jokes and quips are just springing from the characters fully formed instead of having been meticulously written and polished to perfection. This isn't to say that such a balance is impossible to achieve but the fact that "Ghostbusters" remains the high-water mark for this type of filmmaking after nearly thirty years should suggest just how difficult it is. One film that most certainly will not be competing for the title anytime soon is "The Watch," an absurdly unfunny sci-fi/comedy spectacle that takes an admittedly nifty premise and then proceeds to squander it so thoroughly you will be wishing that someone could come along and remake it in order to do it right before it is even halfway over.

Set in a seemingly ordinary Ohio suburb, the film stars Ben Stiller as Evan, a nice and normal guy with a lovely house, a lovelier wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) and a good job as the manager of the local Costco--apparently the happiest place on Earth to go by its depiction here. One night, something apparently breaks into the store and not only kills the lone security guard but skins him to boot. ("Wholesale Murder" blares the TV news in what proves to be the single funniest joke in the entire movie.) When the local cops seem unable or unwilling to track down the killer, longtime club former Evan decides to take matters into his own hands by forming a neighborhood watch that he is sure will be able to capture the guilty party in no time. Unfortunately for him, his recruiting efforts yield only three volunteers. Bob (Vince Vaughn) is a big, glad-handing goof with a basement filled with big boy toys and a daughter () whose personal life he obsesses over with a fervor not seen since the immortal "She's Out of Control." Franklin (Jonah Hill) is a starry-eyed dreamer whose dream of becoming a member of the police force was cruelly snatched from him just because he failed the required physical, written and psych tests. Jermarcus (Richard Ayode) is a newcomer to the neighborhood from England but possesses two important attributes for a potential neighborhood watch member--a pleasant demeanor to cool down tense situations and dark skin to deflect potential charges of racism.

At first, nothing much get done--Evan is the only one who takes things seriously and the guys wind up spending more time running afoul of the local police themselves than in nailing any bad guys themselves. Before too long, however, they begin to notice some strange things going on in the neighborhood--after hitting something with their car, the guys discover green goo and what looks like a tentacle embedded in the grille and later stumble upon a mysterious orb that turns out to have incredible destructive powers. Finally, while investigating some mysterious noises at the home of the neighborhood's reclusive crank (the invaluable R. Lee Ermey), they come across and seemingly kill what appears to be either an honest-to-goodness alien or a "Prometheus" extra that wandered onto the wrong set on the Fox backlot. Realizing that aliens are now among them and posing as locals, the guys have to figure out who among them are really from out of town and how they can be stopped from their presumed plans to conquer and destroy both the neighborhood and, presumably, the entire planet.

While watching "The Watch" and with nothing else to occupy my mind with, I found myself thinking back on the films of Joe Dante, one of the best (if sadly underrated) filmmakers to emerge in the immediate wake of the game-changing success of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Dante's genius, which he demonstrated in such films as "Piranha," "The Howling," "Explorers," "Innerspace," the two "Gremlins" films and the begging-for-rediscovery "Small Soldiers" and "Looney Tunes: Back in Action," was to take the cheesy B-movie nonsense that he grew up with as a child of the 1950's and fuse it with a mix of dark humor and astute social commentary into works that were hilarious pieces of pop cinema that were often smarter and more socially astute about the times that inspired them than most of the so-called serious movies of the same era. In theory, "The Watch" sounds like the kind of film that Dante could make in a heartbeat and in fact, he already has done something along these lines with "The Burbs," a film which, it must be noted, is easily the least satisfying of his features to date (though one can assume that most of the reason for its unevenness is due to reported studio interference that allegedly extended to a demand that the original, darker ending be reshot into something more heroic). This is not to say that even he could have made something masterful out of this material but at least it might have had a chance at being entertaining as well as intelligent to boot.

Alas, "The Watch" has nothing on its mind other than--well, it actually doesn't have anything on its mind. Technically, the film is a snooze as it quickly becomes obvious that while director Akiva Schaffer can replicate a blockbuster look for comedic effect in the digital shorts that he has directed for "Saturday Night Live" over the last few years, he has no idea of how to create one on his own. Between the plot holes, inconsistencies, dull spots and bits that just simply go nowhere, the screenplay comes across as one of those things that was rewritten so often so as to serve so many different masters that whatever point it may have once tried to make has long since disappeared from view. Instead, the screenplay is more concerned with cramming in as much scatological material and bloodshed into the proceedings as possible--I realize that the film is R-rated and everything but the ads do not even begin to hint at the strange levels of gore and gross-out gags on display, especially in regards to the eventual revelation of the where the alien Achilles heel is located. From a comedic standpoint, "The Watch" is pretty bankrupt as well as the stars are either allowed to overindulge in the same old schtick that they have been doing for years (are there actually people out there who are still amused and entertained by Vaughn's interminable riffing and scatting whenever Schaffer makes the mistake of pointing the camera in his direction?) or they are pretty much completely wasted. Worst of all, there are so many opportunities for satire that are frustratingly ignored--while Dante might have had merciless fun with the whole Costco angle, the film not only gives it more screen time that it can bother to afford to Rosemarie Dewitt, it is treated with more dignity and respect than she is ever afforded.

As you may remember, "The Watch" was originally titled "Neighborhood Watch" until a few months ago when the Trayvon Martin case inspired Fox change the title and make sure that everyone knew the film's hapless heroes would be taking arms against aliens from another world instead of blacks and Hispanics from another neighborhood, a development that had been largely hidden in the original promotional materials. Since then, there has been some speculation about how it would eventually be received once it was finally released and that has only been increased in recent days as a result of the tragedy in Colorado. As it turns out, there are a couple of bits that I suspect Fox might have decided to remove or alter if there was time--the bit where the group's near-psycho member reveals a large cache of automatic weapons probably will not inspire as many laugh s now as it might have a few weeks ago. As a whole, however, "The Watch" is so innocuous that it is hard to take real offense at it for anything other than aesthetic reasons and so utterly tiresome, unfocused and unfunny that it is unlikely that it would have played any better if it had been released at any other time.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22836&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/26/12 21:05:34
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User Comments

10/11/13 mr.mike Good home vid rental. 4 stars
8/28/12 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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