By Samuel Hoelker
July 31, 2012
Isn’t it the worst when you see a trailer for a movie that you’re looking forward to and it’s, well, a piece of crap? Sometimes it turns out that the movie is actually fantastic and just the victim of a bad trailer (such as Step Up 3D), and sometimes that movie is just a flop (such as Step Up Revolution). I’ll be saving you that risk from now on, as I’ll be checking out the films with the lousiest trailers and seeing whether it’s just poor editing that made the trailer terrible, or if no amount of editing could make it good. Today’s study: The Watch.
We begin with Ben Stiller’s voice-over, which is a job best left to someone who isn’t Ben Stiller. He mentions immediately that there’s an alien invasion, but considering how goofy he, Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughn, and Richard Ayoade look, we must be in for a silly treat! And how goofy is it that they’re camped out at a Costco to keep an eye out for aliens! Maybe they’re not who we want in our neighborhood watch (am I allowed to use that term?) after all! And isn’t Vince Vaughn looking old? It seems like he’s a little old to be doing the man-child bit that wasn’t really his bag anyway (and when he gets excited over his jacket idea – a flaming tiger with wings – you just get embarrassed for him). Don’t worry though, folks – there’s also Jonah Hill playing a man-child. I’ll give the trailer a little credit for introducing the actors so soon, which is good because who’s Richard Ayoade? Oh, the writer/director of Submarine. Yes, him.
We’re then treated to quite a bit of improv. I understand that improvisation is hard to do, and that it’s not always funny. However, that’s why there is editing. Cows and aliens (much like that film from last summer, right?) are killed, but who’s that hanging around in the background? That couldn’t possibly be….oh, it is! Rosemarie DeWitt, don’t you have better things to do? The trailer ends with the neighborhood watch taking pictures with a dead alien….but it’s not so dead! And they sure are having fun blowing things up.
There’s no reason why The Watch should be bad. It’s got talent (I’m a fan of three-fourths of the main cast because I’m not British so I don’t actually know anything about Richard Ayoade, and it was rewritten by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, which usually counts for something), it’s got a clever premise, and has promise of going into deeper themes while maintaining its comic sensibility. Think about how Shaun of the Dead balanced its zombies with a sweet love story, themes of growing up and loyalty, and hilarity. The Watch (oh, it’s awful typing that instead of Neighborhood Watch) should succeed even if a sliver of each thing it’s supposed to do happens.
Too bad it doesn’t. The Watch misses just about every mark – its themes are weak (masculinity is barely touched upon, small-town life is used as a joke only), its aliens are boring, its characters are the actors, and for some reason, Rosemarie DeWitt is married to Ben Stiller and not to me. Instead of playing off its clichés and using them as a launching point for something – really, anything – The Watch plays them off as fact and originality. If the aliens are going to have green goo, you should make a joke out of it, instead of just letting it be. The Watch just always takes the easy way out – there’s no reason for Jonah Hill to yell at his mother (lest character development get in the way) or for a creepy neighbor to host an orgy (isn’t it hilarious! In the middle of the suburbs there’s an orgy! Wow!). And with plentiful subplots that go nowhere, it’s obvious that the writing is just lazy (count how many times you laugh when you find out the aliens’ weakness. I’ll bet it rhymes with “Nero”).
Sure, The Watch has a couple funny moments, mostly involving the charming Richard Ayoade, who’s out of place because he’s the only one who doesn’t look like he’s trying too hard. Ayoade brings a cool British charm to the film, and he’s a delight (much like Michael Stulhbarg in Men in Black III), which clashes with awfully-written characters like the douchey cop who seems to be from a lesser Apatow-produced film. And I confess that Vince Vaughn can usually get me to laugh once or twice, because he talks so much, something’s gotta stick. Did I mention how tall he is? That’s always so surprising!
But The Watch isn’t worth it. It’s lazy and lame. Even if The Watch was never going to be a great movie, it certainly deserved to be a mediocre movie. Its thin laughs don’t justify its thin plot. Rosemarie DeWitt (and R. Lee Ermey, who shows up for a scene), you deserve better.