“The Watch” is 102 minutes of unfocused, sporadically enthused attempt to satisfy four different styles of comedy. The only thing as bizarre as its tone is the fact that the film is no failure. When one has the nervously neurotic Ben Stiller, over-caffeinated Vince Vaughn, subtly disturbed Jonah Hill and deadly dry Richard Ayoade under one comedic roof, things are bound to be inconsistent. Director Akiva Schaffer often times removes himself and his story from the focus, often letting these four funnymen simply co-exist with one another, talking about penises, aliens, and alien penises. This renders “The Watch” as less of a story and more of a comedic exercise, a $70 million playground in which some of the commercial leaders of American comedy can cut loose.
They’re strung together by the loosest of story lines: in an unassuming Ohio suburb, Evan (Stiller) is beginning to suspect that aliens are behind a series of killings. He assembles three other downbeats to form a protective neighborhood watch: Bob (Vaughn), Franklin (Hill), and Jamarcus (Ayoade), all tasked to investigate the killings. Weakly developed subplots include Evan groping with his infertility and failing marriage, as well as Bob’s protective nature over his teenage daughter. These unnecessary plot beats side-step “The Watch” away from its truly irreverent, goofy nature, odd given that writers Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg have benefitted in past films from their refusal to do just that.
From an emotional perspective “The Watch” isn’t really anything to write home about, although this isn’t exactly different from expectations. Where the real hook of “The Watch” comes from is watching the American exposure of Richard Ayoade, a tremendously talented actor/director. He’s the dry counterpoint to everyone else’s overeager comedic energy, and pretty much walks away with the entire film.
“The Watch” poses just about one interesting question, which is one I imagine most people won’t have to deal with: when a film’s ambitions shoot low and meet that measly goal, how do you formally critique it? Describing the merits of “The Watch” is like describing the merits of a lengthy penis joke, probably because “The Watch” is a lengthy penis joke. C+