The timing could not possibly have been worse. Originally titled Neighborhood Watch, Akiva Schaffer’s film was re-christened The Watch – even though the characters of The Watch constantly refer to themselves as a Neighborhood Watch and wear natty jackets bearing the title Neighborhood Watch – on account of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. It is not so much that The Watch – which it should be mentioned was shot well before the tragedy – bears an explicit reference to the terribly unfortunate situation of February, as it the weirdly coincidental underlinings. It evokes the notion that despite the motto “If You See Something, Say Something” you should, in fact, NOT say something because no one – including the police – will listen and, thus, you should just go ahead and DO something entirely of your own accord, even if that something is loading up on firearms and raising mayhem. Yikes.
Of course, The Watch, inherently, is merely a movie and even with everything I have just noted must be judged as such. And so I will. Penned by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, it feels as if a few members of the Delta Tau Chi frat have moved to Stepford, Connecticut and decided to make a feature-length episode of The Twilight Zone.
Front and center is the issue of male inadequacy, such as Evan Trautwig (Ben Stiller), manager of the local Costco, who is an uptight control freak which might explain why he is shooting blanks with his suffering, hardly seen spouse Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt, far too talented for this crap trap) who wants nothing more than to have a baby because, uh, well, I’m sure Stern, Rogen and Goldberg could think of no other female character traits than “Hey! She wants to have a baby!”
But the security guard at his store (Joe Nunez) is killed mercilessly and mysteriously in an early scene and, thus, Evan only grows more uptight and decides to form a Neighborhood Watch. He is joined by Bob (Vince Vaughn), “spelled with a B”, who chatters endlessly and has an affinity for Bud and band tee shirts, Franklin (Jonah Hill), a possible mental head case who yearns to be a cop, and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), a smartly-dressed Brit, recently broken-hearted and looking for friends.
Eventually the Neighborhood Watch realizes the very neighborhood they have sworn to defend is in the midst of an invasion of aliens who have infiltrated by stripping humans of their skin and then slipping into it. This is an idea ripe for psychological interest that never goes beyond surface level. Instead the film settles for one phallic reference piled on top of another, all of which are meant to be uproarious but wind up being more telling. Although the traditionally moronic phrase “Bros Before Hoes” is never uttered, The Watch sort of summarizes it. Although a subplot involving Bob’s daughter and her new boyfriend is critical, we never see Bob’s wife until the very end – and even then she doesn’t get a line. Rosemarie DeWitt is allowed to join up with the boys for the gung-ho finale only to be moved to the sidelines right before they actually go gung-ho. Nope, the Neighborhood Watch is an all boys club.
But again I find myself discussing subtext in a film that barely has text. My apologies. I suppose this is because the text doesn’t interest me. The film barely has text. The comedy is nothing much more than loosely connected vulgarity-laden skits. The action is uninteresting. The mystery is laughable, relying on a standard Red Herring Character (poor Billy Crudup) who is suspected of being an alien even though we know from the get-go he is not an alien specifically because the screenplay is so pointed in making him appear to be an alien. We are left wondering how Jonah Hill has managed to evolve as an actor in just a few years more than Vince Vaughn has in nearly twenty.
Each character has a version of a dream. Evan wants to find Antonio’s killer. Abby wants a baby. Bob wants his daughter’s boyfriend gone. Franklin wants to wear a badge. Jamarcus wants to meet an Asian housewife.
I want Billy Crudup and Rosemarie DeWitt to go off on their own and make a movie far, far away form this cinematic wastefulness.