When the Trayvon Martin shooting occurred earlier this year the first thing everyone thought was of Neighborhood Watch, rechristened The Watch. Would it be released in what could be the worst case scenario for a film in that real life has taken out a good chunk of the potential comedy? The thing 20th Century Fox should’ve been more concerned with wasn’t the socio-political environment of a film about an overzealous neighborhood watch team; it was the fact that they were releasing one of the most painfully unfunny comedies of the past 20 years.
The Watch has a simple premise. When Costco general manager Evan (Ben Stiller) walks in to his store to find a beloved employee dead, he opts to form a neighborhood watch to prevent future murders from happening. Making his plea to the small Ohio suburb he lives in, it falls on deaf ears except for three people who join it for wildly differing reasons. Bob (Vince Vaughn) wants to spy on his teenage daughter’s life. Franklin (Jonah Hill) is a lunatic who couldn’t make onto the police force and wants to be a vigilante of sorts. Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) mainly wants to satisfy a sexual fantasy involving a lonely housewife. Thinking that it’s a violent killer, the four wind up at ground zero for an alien invasion that’s being developed from inside the Costco.
Apparently they really do have everything you need. One thing they might want to add, though, is some jokes.
This is a remarkably unfunny film because it takes an inherently solid premise, of four suburban guys stumbling into an alien invasion, and does absolutely nothing with it. Given an R-rating for language mainly, the film feels like a PG-13 film gussied up into an R-rated film as opposed to a film originally intended to be an R-rated film. Some of that may have to do with the writing one imagines; credited in part to Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, this is a film that feels like a solid family film that’s been given an R-rated polish from those two as opposed to being R-rated to start with.
There’s no reason this couldn’t have been a PG-13 film but the film’s moments that earn that rating aren’t all that spectacular, either. R. Lee Ermey is never dull when he gets to scream at people on screen but a profanity-laced tirade from him is to be expected; if it had been Wayne Brady it’d have been unexpected and significantly funnier. As it stands there isn’t much to this film from a comic standpoint.
The film’s basic premise from a comedic standpoint is to take these four characters and do nothing with them but the basic one note gags they are introduced with. If they were actually funny it would be one thing but we’re given Jonah Hill trying to act like a psychotic fringe type to no success, Vince Vaughn just screaming, Ben Stiller as the everyman and Richard Ayoade as divorcee with a secret. They do absolutely nothing with it and there’s plenty of potential to do so; Vaughn has a scene with Stiller near the end that is somewhat effective just out of the blue. It’s as if they shot two films; one that was intentionally unfunny and one that was more dramatic and somehow this scene snuck in from the latter to the former.
This may be a difficult film to watch for some because of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman incident in Florida that has brought strong feelings from many people. It shouldn’t be watched because of that; it’s just perhaps the worst film of 2012 and should be avoided at all costs.
Director: Akiva Schaeffer Writer: Jared Stern and Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg Notable Cast: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie DeWitt, Will Forte