Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Watch - 2012

"The Watch" - 2012
Dir. by Akiva Schaffer - 1 hr. 42 min.

Official Red Band Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

What a disappointment.  When I initially saw the trailer for "The Watch," I was sure it was a movie that I completely wanted to see.  But it came and went from the theatres so quickly that I didn't get the chance to catch it, at which point I started to eagerly await watching it when it hit home video.  Finally, it hit pay-TV, and I recorded it for later viewing.  But I wish I'd put it off a little longer, now that I'm done watching it.

Evan (Ben Stiller) is a go-getter, the kind of guy who starts clubs and gets things done, but doesn't have many friends.  But he does manage a Costco (and it's identified as such), and when one of his security guards is murdered on-duty, Evan decides to create a neighborhood watch to try and keep this sort of thing from happening again (since the police are incompetent and disinterested).  Evan's flyering yields three co-conspirators; Bob (Vince Vaughn), a beleaguered father of a teenage daughter, Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade),  a proper gent with an enormous afro, and Franklin (Jonah Hill), who failed the police exam, possibly due to him being a little insane.  Immediately, a power struggle breaks out between Evan's micromanaging style and Bob's attempts to inject awesomeness into everything.  But when they accidentally kill an alien and stumble upon an invasion scheme, the band of unlikely heroes decides to try to save Earth.

If my intro makes it sound like "The Watch" is a terrible movie, that's not entirely accurate.  I was disappointed, largely because this film had the tools at it's disposal to be really funny, instead of just having it's moments.  Besides, when you put Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn together, there's going to be an instant comparison to "Dodgeball," which was kind of awesome and completely re-watchable.  But the mix was all off here, and there are problems with the writing that could have been fixed, and resulted in a better movie.  What problems, you may ask?  Well, we're going to have to explicitly compare "The Watch" to "Dodgeball" to show what I mean.

Stiller's character in "Dodgeball" was the villain, and was driven to the point of absurdity, which was shown in embarrassing detail.  That was part of the fun, that Stiller's character was a buffoonish jackass, but still could have plausibly ended up victorious.  Stiller's Evan is also shown to be a driven character, but instead of that being his Achille's Heel, his shameful secret (SPOILER!!!1!) is that he's sterile.  Now, are there any scenes in "The Watch" that are comedic in nature on this topic?  Not really.  Stiller hangs his head a lot, which isn't funny, and when he finally reveals this to his wife, Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt), they make up and promise to be a team, which also isn't funny.  It's also not dramatic, because up until that point, his wife's only role in the story is to figuratively scream "put a baby in me" at Evan, so for the most part, nobody cares about her as a character.  And as such, no one cares (I don't mean that sarcastically, but if you don't build a character up, an audience won't feel anything for that character when things happen to them) when they kiss and make up.  And Abby's joining the neighborhood watch doesn't really have any story-line implications, either.  The result of all of this is that you have a secondary character that isn't established well enough, and the interactions between Abby and Evan don't have any resonance, either.  So you have the motivations of the main character in your movie falling flat.

This problem extends to the other characters, as well.  What made Vince Vaughn's character work in "Dodgeball" was his bizarre ambivalence to everything around him, and almost deliberate resistance to success of any kind.  Seemingly, what he wanted more than anything was to be left alone and to do nothing.  Here, it's not hard to say what his character wants the most: the safety of his teenage daughter.  Bob is seeking solace from his rocky relationship in the neighborhood watch, but it ends up confusing his character's path.  Either he wants his daughter's safety and well-being, or he wants to hang out with the guys.  But Bob choosing one over the other doesn't result in meaningful strife.  Yes, there is an argument between Bob and Evan over it, but it's not explosive enough to really put the end of the film in question.  By that point, they've already discovered the aliens, and you know the group is going to have to reconcile to square off with them.  The entire point of the big argument scene in these kinds of film is to make a viewer wonder how the characters are going to be able to cooperate with each other long enough to achieve what needs to be achieved.  It's also a convenient break so that the main character can patch things up with his romantic interest, and thus attack the goal in question with renewed vigor.  But, since the patching-up part fell flat, and the argument scene didn't accomplish the goal of putting the accomplishment of the end task in question, "The Watch" limps into the third act.

A lot of the truly funny material here made it's way into the trailer, but nearly all of the good stuff that's not in the trailer is in the third act, which is why it's a shame that "The Watch" has lost much of it's momentum by that point.  When you've got a shoot-out against aliens at a Costco, and the only way to defeat the aliens is by shooting them in the dick (really), there's an opportunity to do some funny material.  And there is some funny material.  If only the first hour-plus of the film had set things up better, the showdown would have been tremendous.  As it stands, I was thankful that the last half-hour was better than the rest of the film, but I still had to break up "The Watch" into two viewing sessions to get through it.  That's not a strong compliment, especially for a movie that I was pretty psyched about seeing.  All of the actors do a good job with what they have to work with, but it's a set of strong walls built on a shaky foundation.  "The Watch" isn't a home-run or a strike-out, it's like a bloop single.  But nobody paid to watch Babe Ruth hit bloop singles, and in this case, wasting a good cast and decent concept may as well have been like hitting into a double-play.

2 / 5 - TV

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