Saturday Night Live writer and director Akiva Schaffer’s latest offering the The Watch (2012) (formerly know as Neighbourhood Watch) is a boisterous US studio comedy with an extra-terrestrial twist. Starring comedy heavyweights Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Britain’s own Richard Ayoade, Schaffer’s ensemble rib-tickler is bustling with juvenile energy, yet struggles to build upon these eye-catching ingredients.
When a gruesome murder occurs in Evan’s (Stiller) local branch of Costco, he finds himself turned from local convenience store manager to leader of his sleepy town’s neighbourhood watch. Despite a heartfelt rally at a local football game, his motley crew of fellow vigilantes consists of a meagre rabble, including suburban father Bob (Vaughn), failed police cadet Franklin (Hill) and reserved British neighbour Jamarcus (Ayoade). However, what begins as a way for each of these men to escape the mundane rituals of domestic life quickly becomes a mission to defend the Earth from an alien invasion.
Ostensibly a buddy comedy set against a sci-fi backdrop, The Watch feels like a simple transference of the same immature humour of Old School (2003) and The Hangover (2009), shoehorned into a new(ish) sub-genre. Each character represents a strangely familiar dynamic, with Stiller as the film’s uptight yet valiant protagonist, Hill as a failed cop with sociopathic tendencies, Ayoade as the stereotypically polite yet cowardly Brit and Vaughn as Vince Vaughn – exasperatingly portraying the same repressed party animal character he’s recycled ever since 1996’s Swingers.
The fatal crux of The Watch is its reliance on immature humour, primarily the film’s abundance of ‘knob gags’ that seem to punctuate every punchline. Never quite harnessing its juvenile energy into anything that doesn’t involve some kind of genital fixation, the atrocious comedy that comprises the majority of this sci-fi spoof isn’t so much gratuitous, but just simply not very funny. Whereas Joe Cornish’s cult hit Attack the Block (2011) attempted to highlight a culturally significant message about the economic divide within England’s capital, The Watch is little more than a shallow excuse for grown men to make childish gag after childish gag.
Whilst the creature design of Schaffer’s bumbling comedy adventure is mildly impressive, the film’s extra-terrestrial visitors are far better fashioned than the roles of women and minorities, there as either bait or to be protected and comforted. Indeed, the most heinous of Schaffer’s crimes is the under-use of Rosemarie DeWitt, who frankly deserves better, whilst Ayoade’s presence is similarly baffling. Lacking any sense of peril or supernatural wonder, The Watch is quite simply a film that fails on almost every conceivable level.
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