The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Watch

The Watch is a watered-down hybrid of about half a dozen other movies, and that's the problem. Doing something that's already been done before is a dicey proposition to begin with; doing it without bringing anything new to the table is an invitation to fail. Three of the top comic actors of our day – plus one relative newcomer to these shores – have assembled to create a comedy with no real laughs. I think I giggled twice. Mostly, I felt like revisiting the other, better pictures this one desperately tries to mimic.

Ben Stiller plays Evan, an Ohio man who works as a Costco manager. His wife Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) wants to have a baby with him, but he keeps hedging. When his store's night security guard is brutally murdered, Evan decides to organize a neighborhood watch to help local law enforcement prevent crime. There are only a few others willing to sign up. Bob (Vince Vaughn) is simply looking for male companionship and prefers chilling in his man-cave to patrolling the streets. Franklin (Jonah Hill) failed the mental health exam needed to become a police officer; he's interested in “working out some personal issues” by “busting some heads.” Then there's Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade, star of the British TV series “The IT Squad”), who just moved to the USA and wants to make friends. They begin roaming the streets of their town after dark, looking for trouble. They find it in the form of aliens, who are preparing to attack Earth.

There are ways to make this sort of material work, but The Watch doesn't find any of them. Plain and simple, the movie just isn't weird enough. Any kind of picture that mixes comedy with some otherworldly element needs to have a sufficiently offbeat tone to sell the material. The Watch plays things relatively straight. Look at some of the films this one resembles. It never nails the suburban paranoia of Joe Dante's The 'Burbs, which found humor in the idea that darkness lurked in “postcard perfect” neighborhoods. Neither does it depict the hilarious struggles of normal guys taking on a supernatural force, as Ghostbusters did so brilliantly. The “aliens hiding among us” concept had payoff in Men in Black; here, it's so ridiculously easy to figure out who the aliens are that there's no inherent comedy in it. Then there's Attack the Block, the fantastic British movie from last year that has a nearly identical plot. ATB portrayed a bunch of street toughs trying to fend off an alien invasion in their housing project. That film brought us colorful characters and exciting action. The Watch brings us cliched scenarios about Evan's pregnancy hesitation and Bob's attempts to prevent his teen daughter from losing her virginity. (It's also worth noting that Attack the Block, which isn't technically a comedy, is leagues funnier than The Watch, which is.) In lieu of a quirky perspective, we get jokes about shopping at Costco, people who have lame or embarrassing cell phone ringtones, and penises. Man, oh man, are there ever a lot of penis jokes in this film.

Without solid material to work with, the actors flounder. Although they collaborated nicely in Dodgeball, Stiller and Vaughn make no magic this time. Both actors are known for their manic comic sensibilities; having them do virtually the same schtick in the same film feels repetitive. Richard Ayoade possesses a unique screen presence; he looks ready to break loose, yet is never given the chance. Jonah Hill comes off the best playing the loose-screw cop wannabe. Too bad he doesn't get more big scenes to fully develop that character.

The Watch ends with the requisite action extravaganza, but it falls flat because nothing leading up to it sustains our interest. Director Akiva Schaffer (Hot Rod) doesn't provide the loopy tone this subject matter desperately needs, and the script – which reportedly was heavily rewritten by several people – is a mishmash of incompatible jokes. With such a promising cast, it's disappointing that The Watch is so crushingly unfunny.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Watch is rated R for some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language and violent images . The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.

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