It can be difficult making friends once you’re past a certain age because the older people get the more set in their ways they become. Youth offers any number of bonding experiences that bring people together from grade school up through college, but once you enter the real world those opportunities start to dwindle. Husbands and wives, children, jobs, existing friends…these things tend to limit the time you have for meeting new people, becoming familiar with them and building new relationships.
Past the age of thirty a catalyst of some kind is required to draw people together on short notice. Something big is good. Something of planetary importance is even better.
Evan (Ben Stiller) is constantly on the lookout for friends and has formed more clubs than Tracy Flick ever dared to dream. He keeps busy with running club and Spanish for Senior Citizens, but when one of his Costco employees is viciously murdered Evan decides to form a Neighborhood Watch. Franklin (Jonah Hill) failed every test the police department threw at him, so the opportunity to join a “vigilante squad” appeals to him greatly. Bob (Vince Vaughn) is a recent transplant to town with his wife and teen daughter, and he jumps at the chance to hang out with the guys. And Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) is simply a responsible newcomer to our American shores.
Together they form a local neighborhood watch. Together they will decide Earth’s fate as they discover and attempt to stop an alien invasion. Together, if they survive, they might just find some new friends in the process.
“Come over here and finger-bang this ball with us.”
Some movies live or die on the strength of their cast, and like many great comedies this is one of them. No doubt many of the jokes were already on the page, but it’s the comedic talents onscreen that bring the laughs to life. It’s the stretches of back and forth riffing that bump this immediately towards the top of the year’s funniest comedies. Hill continues to find success in ensembles with his deadpan delivery and willingness to tongue even the crassest line of dialogue into hilarious shape, and Ayoade channels a much fouler version of his straitlaced IT Crowd character to humorous effect.
Stiller and Vaughn are arguably the two biggest names here, and both have been suffering through a laugh-free stretch for years now. There’s exactly one successful joke spread between Stiller’s Tower Heist and Little Fockers and Vaughn’s The Dilemma and Couples Retreat. (The punchline to that joke is found in audiences actually shelling out cash at the box office.) But here, both men manage to tone down the shticks that took over their comedy in recent years and come out the other end responsible for many of the film’s bigger laughs.
It’s difficult to tell where to specifically credit or blame director Akiva Schaffer as the talent onscreen takes the comedic reins every chance they get, but the film looks good and has a steady pace to it. He’s following up his 2007 Andy Samberg vehicle, Hot Rod, which is as maligned as it is beloved, and in addition to stepping up to more recognizable faces he’s opened the floodgates when it comes to earning the R-rating.
The majority of the film’s many, many laughs are crass, foul, and somehow sexual in nature. It makes little sense to criticize the film’s most successful aspect, but while a tighter control on the script may have reduced the guffaws it ultimately would have resulted in a stronger movie. The best comedies have story and character to back up the laughs, and this one has neither.
You won’t find much more about the plot it does have here for two reasons. One, every movie is best experienced as fresh and as blind as possible. A quartet of very funny gentlemen discover an impending alien takeover, and they band together to stop it. Do you really need more than that? No. No, you don’t.
The second reason further plot details are unnecessary here though is that the film itself doesn’t really care about them, so why should we? The script by Jared Stern (with additional dirty touch-ups by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg) lays the story’s groundwork out alongside attempts at character building for each of the leads, but much of it feels irrelevant and uninspired.
There’s no question that The Watch is a damn funny movie even if it’s not a very original or memorable one. It’s Attack the Block with dick jokes. It’s Ghostbusters minus the staying power. And it’s currently the most hilarious movie playing at a theater near you. (Unless 21 Jump Street is still playing at a second-run theater…)
The Upside: Lots of laughs; fantastic cast chemistry; Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller remind us why we once thought they were funny; Richard Ayoade gets the wider audience he deserves; Will Forte and Billy Crudup are killer in small roles; Costco has a very accommodating marketing department.
The Downside: Movie is less successful when focused on story and character; most of the plot turns are easily predictable.
On the Side: The film’s original title, Neighborhood Watch, was altered after the shooting of an unarmed Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin by a Neighborhood Watch coordinator earlier this year.