July 27, 2012


THE WATCH:  Not At Any Price – Do the Stars a Favor:  Don’t Watch

Some terrible movies surprise and disappoint, but you could see THE WATCH coming for weeks.  The increasingly desperate marketing campaign told the story–it’s a buddy comedy!  it’s a sci-fi comedy!  it’s a buddy comedy and a sci-fi comedy!–as did the panicky change of title from Neighborhood Watch after the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.  The movie, now that it’s arrived, isn’t the worst comedy of the summer–since lest we forget, That’s My Boy continues to exist–but it’s a lazy, cynical exercise at creating lighthearted fun.

Start with the cast, since that’s the movie’s only real selling point.  Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn provide slight variations on the same role they’ve each been playing now for more than a decade.  Stiller is Evan Trautwig, this movie’s version of his uptight control freak who has to loosen up and get a little adventure in his life, here a Costco manager ashamed to tell his wife Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) that he has a low sperm count; he sublimates his frustration by forming civic groups, and after a mysterious death occurs in his Costco, his latest enthusiasm is a neighborhood watch group.  Vaughn is the mindlessly speed-talking Bob Finnerty, who has the man-cave where they all meet and who’ll riff at length on all subjects (although his favorite is anything to do with male genitals) when he’s not obsessing over his teen daughter’s virginity.  At this point in their careers, Stiller and Vaughn can perform these characters on autopilot, and that’s exactly what they do here, with Stiller replicating slow burns from the Meet the Parents and Night at the Museum series while Vaughn recycles shtick from movies like Four Christmases and Couples Retreat.  Jonah Hill (who so far isn’t doing much to follow up on his wonderful work in Moneyball) does his glaring, pretend-tough-guy dork bit as Franklin, who joins the watch because he’d failed the local police test–his work is partly a repeat from his own earlier roles, and partly from Seth Rogen’s part in Observe and Report, which is hardly a coincidence since Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg (along with Jared Stern) wrote the Watch screenplay.  The fourth star is Richard Ayoade, the British actor who directed the stylish, insightful indie comedy-drama Submarine (well worth checking out on homevideo), who contributes cheerfully off-tone line readings.  For Ayoade, as for Rosemarie DeWitt, this is the kind of paycheck role that permits their excellent low budget work, in her case including films like Rachel Getting Married and Your Sister’s Sister.

As the trailers and ads have already made clear, the story’s big twist is that the Costco murder was actually committed by aliens, and our quartet has to foil the invasion of the earth.  This is even more ho hum than it sounds, because as big-star Hollywood comedies go, this one was clearly only medium-budget, and the special effects are around what you’d expect from a season premiere or finale episode of Falling Skies.  (Except Falling Skies wouldn’t be quite so crudely obvious with its Costco and Budweiser product placement deals.)  Akiva Schaffer, directing his second feature (the first was Hot Rod), continues to be oddly unable to translate the visual snap of his SNL Digital Shorts to the big screen, and the movie is conventional looking to the point of ugliness (you can practically see the soundstage walls rising above the man-cave set), with a plodding pace.  As is the way of comedies in the Apatow era, the action periodically stops for the actors to ad lib for several minutes on some detail in the dialogue, even if the improvs are inconsistent with who their characters are supposed to be overall (a mistake Apatow himself doesn’t make).

It’s clear, watching The Watch, that no one involved had any commitment or interest in the material at all; it was just a job for everyone concerned.  The studio figured that combining 3 boxoffice names in one comedy would pay off no matter what the quality or content was, and the stars didn’t work very hard, perhaps enjoyed hanging out together (when they weren’t in their trailers), and collected their pay.  There’s no reason for audiences to show any more enthusiasm for the end result than the filmmakers themselves managed to summon.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."