There are very few films that can gain the respect of everyone. In my experience, only The Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption were able to achieve heights so high that they are loved by all. When it comes down to it then, most films are a matter of opinion and taste. But there are a few films that can go beyond this line of thought and become the polar opposite of the movies I just mentioned. They are movies that had potential with the story idea and a powerful cast, and they decide to throw it all away. The Watch (2012, R) is one of those films.
It's about four guys who live in a suburban neighborhood, who band together to form the Neighborhood Watch after one of their friends is ruthlessly killed. The movie is directed by Akiva Shaffer, most known as being a member of the comedy band The Lonely Island and his cult favorite Hot Rod, and is produced and funded by Costco Wholesale...well I don't know that for a fact, but Ben Stiller plays a Costco manager, the friend who dies is a Costco night guard, the aliens invade and set up their lair at Costco, and the line is filled with punchlines about Costco: "Costco is for members only." Everyone knows that producers will get sponsors from major corporations in return for a sometimes not-so-discrete product placement in the movie, but this was out of hand. It felt as if the Costco CEO had to approve and revise the script--this film had a script??--before going into production. It became so annoying that it distracted from the few good moments that the film had.
A huge problem was that the story and cast had so many opportunities to be funny, but instead of using real wit and humor, they almost always went for lewd gags instead, which got old really, really fast. Everything from homosexual neighbors inviting them over to an orgy, to the only weakness of the aliens is to shoot them in their crotch. "That's where all aliens' brains are." I just cannot wrap my brain around what happened. All of these guys--Stiller, Hill, and Vaughn--have been in some great comedies. Meet the Parents, Wedding Crashers, and 21 Jump Street were all fantastic and hilarious. But when you look at it, those three films all had great hooks which provided plenty of laughs. A man who wants to propose to his girlfriend and needs to impress her father when Murphy's Law starts to kick in. Two pals who are divorce lawyers crash weddings on the weekends. Two rookie cops go undercover to their former high school where they used to be enemies. Anyone who loves humor can read those plots and instantly be sold on watching them. What happened with The Watch is that too many things were going on in the film. What started out as a possibly fun mystery comedy (four friends investigate the death of their pal) became a mystery-alien-action-erotic-horror-comedy-romance Costco advertisement. I am completely serious, all of those elements are present in the film in some way or another. If they had kept with their original hook, stayed on track, and didn't try to visit every genre possible, this could have been a very enjoyable film.
And was it just me, or did The Watch feel like an adult movie that really was a teen movie at heart? With all of the teen partying, buddy time, and male genital jokes, this seems like a film that was targeted directly at the seventeen to twenty-year old male audience. Surprisingly enough, it was going to be. I looked up the production history of this film. It was originally going to be a teen comedy, originally named Neighborhood Watch, and started development in 2008 by producer Shawn Levy (Real Steel, Date Night) and screenwriter Jared Stern. In 2010 the script was taken over by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who aimed it toward an adult audience. And they really did. The negative reviews by critics were filled with complaints about the film's vulgar humor, which was not even funny. Even the tagline "Got Protection?" has got me thinking that the neighborhood watch was not the protection that they were referring to.
All comedies generally follow the same structure. Everyone who has seen more than a couple of them knows that this is true. The character has a problem and he tries to resolve it. Then we get to watch a montage of all the stuff he does to try and fix it, and realize that he's doing it the wrong way. His friends leave him because they are disgusted with all the wrong choices that he has made, and in his one last attempt to get everything right, it does. We see this in every single comedy, I can only think of one that does not clearly operate like this and still was a success (Groundhog Day, which had a pretty messed-up storyline as it is but is superior to many more modern comedies). The Watch hits upon all of these points, but goes about them in the worst, least-entertaining and least-humorous ways possible. The touching moments feel rushed and mechanical, and the buddy comedy was some of the worst I have ever seen. It is no secret that this film was a miss for all of the stars involved, and its depressing to know that they will probably have another miss, if not this year, then the year after. Comedy, while being one of the most successful genres in the film industry, is also one of the hardest to get right. I am surprised that after four years of story development and script revisions that Shawn Levy and gang did not realize how poor their final draft really was. My final advice on The Watch? Don't watch it.
Half a tiara, and that's generous.
Review by Goldenmouth