[Review] – The Watch

14 Aug

Title: The Watch
Year: 2012
Director: Akiva Schaffer
Writers: Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Starring: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie DeWitt
MPAA Rating: R, some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language and violent images
Runtime: 102 min
IMDb Rating: 5.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 16%
Metacritic: 35

Well, The Watch has just never really gotten it easy. The film started its journey to theaters in early 2008 with producer Shawn Levy aiming to make it a PG-13 Ghostbusters kind of thing with the script from Jared Stern. A year later things started to move smoothly, with Dave Dobkin attached to direct and Will Ferrell to star. Well, a few months later that fell apart, then Peter Segal was approached to direct, but then that too came to nothing. It wasn’t until November of 2010, two and a half years later, that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were brought in to totally revise the script and make it an adult, R-rated experience.

You might think, “so what?” since so many films take that long, and so many others take even longer, and another huge chunk never really makes it out of development hell. Well, yes, that’s true, but then The Watch also had a huge marketing problem. You see, it was originally called Neighborhood Watch, and the marketing campaign had a poster with a shadowed outline of a hooded figure and the trailers had a scene with Jonah Hill imitating a gun with his hand and pretending to shoot some kids. And just when that marketing strategy started to unfold, the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida took place, with a hooded kid being killed by a neighborhood watch captain.

That’s just a huge blow that no film can really anticipate, and it forced it to not only change its name to The Watch, but also to re-focus its whole marketing strategy which now focussed much more on the alien premise instead of just the neighborhood watch aspect of it. So yeah, this one had that obstacle. Then it had these other external factors, which included stiff competition from the London 2012 Summer Olympics opening weekend, the second weekend in theaters of The Dark Knight Rises, and, of course, the fact that audiences were reluctant to go to theaters after the shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

Like I said, The Watch didn’t really have an easy way to theaters, and once it got there it didn’t have an easy road to success, either. So far it’s made about $31 million on a budget of nearly $70 million; so yeah, not that great. You know what else has probably contributed quite a bit to the fact that this one hasn’t been successful? The fact that, quite simply, the film is pretty bad. Yes, it had horrible luck because all these external factors that they couldn’t control were pitted against it. But the overall quality of the film was something that they could have done something about, and they just didn’t.

What’s worse is that I really like the people involved here. Director Akiva Schaffer is part of The Lonely Island and made Hot Rod which is okay; Mr. Rogen and Mr. Goldberg have written two hilarious R-rated comedic gems in Pineapple Express and Superbad; and then you have those four leads, which include Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn, guys who have been at the very top of the comedy ladder for over a decade, plus Jonah Hill, who represents kind of the new generation of comedy blood, and then you have Richard Ayoade, who may not be a big name in the States, but who’s been hilarious in the BBC’s The I.T. Crowd and who last year made his feature directorial debut with the sublime Submarine (which I gave an A- to). So yeah, these people are all terrific, it’s just that they couldn’t make this work.

If you ask me, this one just didn’t work because it never found the right balance between the sci-fi comedy elements and the R-rated stuff it was going for. And, what’s worse, is that not only did the script didn’t really figure out just how to mix the two elements, but what I thought was really crappy was the fact that the R-rated stuff was just totally cheap jokes and gross-out gags, and while the gross stuff has always been a part of Mr. Rogen and Mr. Goldberg’s previous scripts, they always found a way to make that super smart and witty and make it just tremendously funny; and they never once achieve that in The Watch.

You have aliens setting up base at Costco because it’s only at Costco that they can find everything they need for their plan in the same building. That’s actually kind of funny. And then a guard at the story is killed off, and the manager, played by Mr. Stiller, forms this neighborhood watch which looks just like you would expect, with the fat guy, the big guy, and the guy chosen to represent a different ethnicity. The script is pretty horrible, but you have people who know how to at least get a few laughs out of it, which is why I’m not failing this movie, and then you have Mr. Ayoade who’s actually great, and is the reason why I’m giving this more than a C-.

I didn’t like The Watch, I guess that’s obvious by now. It’s very, very unfortunate that it came out when it did, with the timing against it because of a couple of real-life incidents that do indeed give a couple of scenes here some kind of awkward, though not offensive, tinge. The most unfortunate thing though is that even though it has capable performers, the script is seriously not up to the task, not knowing how to combine the two elements it has to play with and, most surprisingly, considering from who’s pens it came from, not really making the raunchy jokes land, with the ones that do doing so because of the skills of the actors here. I’ll still watch anything with any of these guys, it’s just a pity that we couldn’t have gotten a lesser version of Ghostbusters like they originally intended.

Grade: C

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