The Watch (2012) Film Review, a movie directed by Akiva Schaffer and starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Billy Crudup, Richard Ayoade, Doug Jones, Will Forte, Rosemarie DeWitt, Willam Belli, Nicholas Braun, Jorma Taccone, Joe Nunez, Carissa Capobianco, Patricia French, and Justin Wheelon.
While it is still uncertain whether or not aliens are walking among us, the comedy styles of Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill remain consistent as ever. Whether or not this is a good thing is still up for debate, but in The Watch we get a typical slice of each, with a (very) little something new from British import Richard Ayoade. The acting is good, but with a script that is all over the place, the movie is more of a vehicle than a film. Whether or not you enjoy it is entirely up to your taste for the headliners.
All of the actors play their conventional selves. Stiller is the neurotic guy who nothing seems to go right for, and I thank heaven above that the physical comedy is kept to a minimum. Vaughn is the Vaughn we know from Old School — the fast talking best bud, forced to be responsible for his kid (although no ear muffs this time), and he even has a gadget hook up, just like his previous television store owner persona. Jonah Hill plays the side kick, with unsettling quirkiness, who pushes the limits of what is acceptable and has a creative potty mouth. I can’t speak so much for the other guy, and I say that not because he doesn’t deserve recognition, but because his character is so underused. He has the typical British dry humour, and an aloofness that comes along with playing a foreigner, but for someone who actually has something different to bring to the table his underuse is frustrating. In fact, there were times where I was asking myself why he was necessary in the movie at all.
Each character, along with playing a barely modified version of themselves, has some sort of transformation they must make over the course of the film. This struggle is usually what gives a film it’s life, but in this case it serves as an awkward backdrop for jokes you’ve already heard. In Stiller’s case, it is his uptight, controlling attitude, along with the fact that he for some reason cannot find time to have sex with his wife. For Vaughn, it’s his relationship with his daughter and not his immaturity, despite what his character might lead you to believe. Hill and Ayoade aren’t really given much exposition, aside from the fact that Hill was denied from the police department because ultimately he dropped out of high school and probably was too weird during the interview. And Ayoade is recently divorced…and British.
This uneven distribution of personality ultimately hurts the overall payoff of the film. Obviously as long as movies are made in Hollywood there will be leads and supporting actors, but in a script they must be treated as such. Stiller is the main focus of the movie, but about halfway through the filmmakers try to shift that role to Vaughn as well. Whether this is a function of the amount of screen time in someone’s contract, or just a general disregard for good filmmaking is anybody’s guess. In addition to this misstep, Stiller’s conflict turns out to be some pretty heavy stuff, yet with the need to include everyone it gets swept under the rug. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: too many characters will effectively kill your story.
With Stiller’s weighty storyline, and a moderate level of violence, the film just isn’t silly enough to do what director Akiva Schaffer had in mind. There are a lot of scenes that run much too long; this was clearly done in an attempt to let the seasoned leads adlib, a technique that is used pretty commonly nowadays. But for something like this to work the movie either has to take itself seriously, or it can’t – you can’t have it both ways.
Even though the mark is missed the movie does have its moments. Will Forte is hilarious as an inept town police officer. I found Jonah Hill to be pretty funny, but to give full disclosure I enjoy most of his work. Stiller and Vaughn can be faulted for doing the same thing over and over again, but you don’t do it this much without getting good at it.
With a fractured storyline, crummy character development, and predictable comedy, this movie definitely is not out of this world. However, if you’re partial to the leads’ brand of humor, maybe go see if on a guys night out, otherwise just wait for Netflix.