‘The Watch’ (Akiva Schaffer, 2012) is one of those movies that’s trying to one-up a classic from the eighties without knowing what it was that made the original film so good. The source material here is Ivan Reitman’s 1984 comedy classic ‘Ghostbusters’, and ‘The Watch’s improvements are what you’d expect of low calibre 2010 comedy – bad sex jokes, annoying idiot characters and over the top gore.
‘The Watch’ follows Evan (Ben Stiller), the manager of a Costco in Glenview, Ohio. Evan is a man that wants to be everyone’s friend, and tries to be a prominent figure in the community (whilst very clearly overcompensating for something), and takes pride in being friends with a couple of the towns minorities. However, when one of his workers/ friends is brutally murdered in the Costco, Evan decides to form a Neighbourhood watch to catch the killer, especially since the police department is convinced that it was Evan.
Unfortunately, only three people volunteer for the watch – talkative Bob (Vince Vaughn), whose more interested in hanging out with guys and stopping his teenage daughter form having sex than he is in the community; high school dropout Franklin (Jonah Hill), who clearly has some mental issues and wants to use the group for vigilante justice; and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), a bizarre British black man that’s just moved into the town.
As the group attempt to investigate the murder, they find something beyond anything they could have ever imagined – aliens are real, and they want to kill everyone. As such, the group become a ragtag team intent on hunting down the alien menace.
The similarities to ‘Ghostbusters’ are prevalent throughout the film and are readily spotted in the synopsis, and the film never really tries to shake this similarity away or attempt to do anything with it. Instead, the film simply attempts to provide a modern spin on the idea, and fails horribly due to the lack of any comedic substance in the writing.
The assembled cast are all fantastic actors and comedians, and regularly show their true comedic worth and presence in both film and television, but here they find themselves without good material to work with, and flounder with writing that seems to have stemmed from the minds of prepubescent’s that think that sex is funny simply because it exists. As such, the movie is filled with sexual jokes that aren’t interesting, clever or, often, relevant. It’s catering to the lowest denominator – the kind of people that keep watching Adam Sandler or Tyler Perry films.
This isn’t helped by the overly formulaic plot. Every event in the film is easily plotted and predictable, with nothing coming out of the blue or attempting to surprise. Even the film’s attempt at a ‘twist’ falls flat due to the lacklustre delivery – a combination of poor editing, direction and sound, not to mention the fact that it’s way too obvious.
What’s more annoying is the inclusion of tropes and plot points that do not need to be in the film. The breaking up of the neighbourhood watch is not needed if they’re going to reform 5 minutes later, and the red herring character is so blindingly obvious that he may as well be a walking red herring (it should be noted that Billy Crudup, who plays the herring character, is not credited despite his important role).
There are also several moments where plot points occur and are never mentioned again. Of the three murders that occur, only one has any real bearing on the plot and is mentioned again with the other two being simply ignored after they occur. This is perplexing because they give the cops more reason to suspect Evan as the killer, but they are never mentioned until the films end.
If nothing else, the plot is also too neatly contained. When a characters problem simply is the result of an alien disguised as a human, it suddenly loses a lot of dramatic weight, and characters that have been acting consistently evil (‘dickish’ is probably the better word) suddenly become friendly at the films end. The films conclusions are too neat, and too ‘happily ever after’, resulting in tonal confusion with the rest of the film.
That being said, the final encounter with the aliens is as tonally dissonant as you can imagine. The entirety of the film has been about a bunch of bundling men with no expertise or training trying to catch aliens, with the finale being a sequence of them expertly shooting down an entire hoard of the creatures in a slow motion sequence. Oh, and they often shoot way too many rounds for the guns they’re holding without having to reload, only to have no ammo in the next sequence.
There doesn’t seem to have been much effort to produce anything of visual or aural interest either. The direction is subpar, occasionally bordering on average filmmaking, with plenty of shots highlighting the director’s inexperience with film. The music is mostly licensed, and often chosen to un-ironically match the visuals. If the intent was to be ironic, it failed. The original score rarely pops up and is utterly forgettable to the point where I can’t remember if it actually had a score.
The film’s biggest insult to the audience is its blatant product placement. Much of the film feels like an extended advert for Costco, and the film obnoxiously shoves products in your face at every moment. It feels as though the film were made to get people to go to Costco, rather than as an entertaining work of fiction.
The film is also oddly racist. Minority characters exist to either die (Latino), be used for a sex joke (Korean) or end up as aliens (Black). The reason for the alien invasion is ‘because that’s what aliens do’. Evan’s insistence on finding a black friend comes across as that white guy who can point to a POC friend and claim he can’t be racist because of them. It all feels a little awkward, and does the film no favours.
There are a few moments where the film manages to produce an intelligent line, or have something worthwhile to say, and the cast – whilst wasted – are fantastic. Had this film had a better script, this movie could have been decent, but instead it’s too focused on being rude and crude, with no idea how subtlety and comedic timing (as well as the art of film) works.
I recommend you go watch Ghostbusters instead. It’s a much better film on every conceivable level.