Battle Los Angeles. Skyline. Battleship. Cowboys and Aliens. Alien invasion movies have been such a staple of geek cinema recently – and have been of such dry, stale quality – that it’s about time someone gives them the raucous lampooning they deserve. The Watch is not that movie. It’s the latest in a long line of crude, crass, and dumb suburban man-child comedies, assembly line Hollywood product in which grown men, men like Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill, act like buffoonish, vulgar idiots stuck in a state of arrested adolescence. Only this time with semen-like green goo and reptilian extraterrestrials trying to take over the world
Sometimes these movies can be funny; sometimes grating. The Watch is neither. It falls into a yawning netherworld between the two – a forgettable and perfunctory exercise in men-behaving-baldy comedy that elicits a few chuckles (mostly towards the beginning), mostly falls flat for the bulk of its runtime, but is never so atrocious it becomes a chore to sit through. In other words, this review will be hard to write as nothing about The Watch is worth remembering.
Stiller, Vaughn and Hill (joined by Richard Ayoade, of the cult BBC series The IT Crowd, and the only one who seems happy to be here) go through the comedic motions; each essaying a variant on the kind of persona that has been cultivated for them from films past, playing a troupe of suburbanites who form a neighborhood watch after a murder, only to discover that an alien plot is afoot. Hill is a fast-talking, powder-keg loser. Vaughn, a boorish, loud jock (of the three, he gets the most laughs, especially in a scene where he encounters a Russian nesting doll for the first time.) Stiller, most distressingly, is a neurotic, uptight nebbish; the look of complete dispiritedness on his face seems less like a performance than an actor aware of the personal cinematic purgatory he’s trapped himself in.
The usual clichés are here and accounted for: the female characters, sometimes portrayed by actresses too good for the roles (here, rising indie-world fave Rosemarie DeWitt), shunted aside as wives, girlfriends and daughters; out-of-place serious actors bizarrely drafted into the mix in goofy subsidiary roles (Billy Crudup gets the “honors” here); new-pro Saturday Night Live vets (Will Forte) spicing up the proceedings in smaller roles; racial and cultural stereotypes; endless product placement; and, of course, a healthy dose of male sexual anxiety, coming in the form of an endless array of jokes and talk about dicks and cocks and pricks and other synonyms for the male sex organ.
At its worst, this deeply “neutered/macho” brand of humor can be deeply troubling. Here’s its passively unmemorable. The Watch wants to be an R-rated Ghostbusters with aliens, but it’s simply too prosaic and hackneyed to even come close to the heights of Ghostbusters 2. The special effects work in The Watch, it must be said, is top-notch, too good for it in fact — I wish they were featured in a better, maybe even scarier and more serious film. As it stands, The Watch isn’t terrible, just mediocre and unmemorable.
(And about that product placement I mentioned? What the hell is up with the movie’s deep love for Costcos? It’s like one long ad for the bulk warehouse chain.)