Please re-name this the “Costco” movie.
Product placement is a funny thing in movies today. If used deftly it can help ground a film world in reality but if it lacks subtlety the effect can severely damage credibility. The Watch while being sporadically funny and watchable is very guilty of the latter. The sponsor in question, Costco, is so omni-present in The Watch that I was surprised the movie wasn’t “presented” by it.
That huge gripe aside this isn’t a referendum on corporate sponsorship. The Watch is a light, breezy, alien-invasion comedy starring heavyweights Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughn and newcomer (from the IT Crowd) Richard Ayoade.
The foursome star as a neighborhood watch group that is started by Stiller’s character Evan after a horrible murder is committed at the local Costco he manages. The police in their sleepy Ohio town are less-than-competent so the watch begins nightly patrols, staking out neighborhood streets and gathering clues as to who committed the crime. It’s not really a spoiler to say that their escapades uncover an alien race hell-bent on human extinction.
The film was directed by Akiva Schaffer of The Lonely Island. His comedic touch in the SNL Digital Shorts is on display here and some of it works. The problem for Mr. Schaffer is The Watch isn’t two minutes long. This leads to a lot of scenes of the principal cast riffing. Often these scenes read like 4-guys work-shopping their new stand-up material. Luckily for Schaffer he has the likes of Hill, Stiller and Vaughn to cover up his directorial shortcomings but it wouldn’t hurt to yell cut every now and again.
That’s not to say The Watch is a chore to…watch. It actually has a few inspired moments including a hysterical early scene where the guys are ambushed and egged by a gang of high school kids which leads to the world’s dumbest and most awkward interrogation scenes ever. In fact in that scene and most of the film the cast picks up the dead-weight material and makes something out of it.
Ben Stiller is his classic straight-man persona who has to get over his neuroses (he claims he has no black friends but is in the market) in order to bond with the “bros.” Jonah Hill is funny but a little too familiar as Franklin, the mildly deranged twenty-something outcast. Vince Vaughn plays himself (his characters name is Bob) and he mostly yells stuff (just watch Old School for him at his Vaughn-esque peak.) The standout addition is Richard Ayoade who plays his character Jamarcus with an ode to the comedy of Flight of the Conchords and Ricky Gervais.
The script was penned by Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg. This feels a little too much like a money grab on their end unfortunately. Where they found comedy magic in the teenage raunchiness of Superbad here it just comes off as a little lazy. More times than not the comedy feels a little too forced, like they thought, “You know what’s better than 10 dick jokes? 20!”
I really enjoyed the unhinged lunacy of Schaffer’s first effort Hot Rod and was hoping a bigger budget and cast would push him to take that humor mainstream. Sadly the film relies too much on tired bro-comedy clichés (something that Hot Rod did a great job satirizing.) There’s no doubt he has the comedic chops and with a little more refinement he’ll definitely reign in his style. But maybe that wasn’t the point of The Watch. It may have been to display Costco’s great prices and their current deals in home furnishings. If so, then way-to-go Costco…money well spent.