Hot Rod director Akiva Shaffer returns to the big screen with The Watch. The Watch isn’t your ordinary alien invasion movie, despite some of the bland trailers and the film’s generic title, which was a result of bad timing. The Watch is mostly a harmless raunchy summer comedy that won’t even phase most, but to some The Watch will simply be the funniest film of the summer. Its surprisingly unique alien design makes for some fun sci-fi and the camaraderie between Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade is spot on and makes for a film that works more than it doesn’t.
Evan (Ben Stiller) seems to have his life in order. He’s happily married and he works at the local Costco. What more could a guy ask for in life? His only real problem is that he tends to make groups for everything. He’s the leader of the running club, the Spanish teaching for senior citizens club and a dozen other committees that no one really gives a damn about. Evan’s latest club is dubbed The Neighborhood Watch, after a co-worker’s body is found skinned alive in Costco.
He calls upon the towns best and brightest, but only 3 other people show up. Bob (Vince Vaughn) is a loving father that simply wants to meet some male buds to drink beer and shoot the shit with. Franklin (Jonah Hill) is a little mentally unstable, but his intentions are mostly good, with a few questionable situations crossing over into the grey zone. He’s the nutcase of the bunch, but every real group needs one weirdo to keep everyone on their toes… right?
Lastly, but not least is Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), the polite one of the bunch that is new in town and simply wants to get involved in the community. These four men together become the most unlikely bunch of adult patrolmen in history, but that’s exactly why a movie like The Watch exists.
It’s part sci-fi and part R-rated comedy, skillfully balanced by frequent SNL director Akiva Shaffer. There’s an alien invasion happening and instead of using that to introduce the characters and then to get thrown on the back burner, Shaffer implements several sci-fi elements that makes The Watch successfully work as an alien invasion film. For starters, the alien design is borderline scary. I was surprised by how much detail they put into the aliens, because most comedies tend to shrug this stuff off and rarely is an alien design in a comedy creative or clever.
Shaffer doesn’t hold back with the goo or blood either. The Watch isn’t just a film with foul-mouthed adults cursing as they please; it’s also a bloody alien flick that features plenty of gunfights.
What drives the film is the core cast, but that’s also what hurts the film slightly. Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn are no strangers to roles like these, which makes their jokes feel revisited and almost too familiar. Stiller plays the control freak with a weird sense of humor, which he’s done time and time again and Vaughn makes up most of his stuff as he goes, or at least that is how it is presented, which again is something we’ve seen before. But when the two of them get together and bounce off of Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade, magic starts to form.
Hill and Vaughn show instant chemistry, which is sickly twisted, yet oh so funny and while Ayoade may be the least known of the bunch, he certainly has a nag for getting some of the best out-of-nowhere laughs. His easy going demeanor and general upbeat attitude gives The Watch at least one sane character among fools.
Make no mistake, The Watch is nothing completely new to the genre, but it takes known bumps of the genre mash-up and smooth’s them out. The comedy is always funny, mostly when it’s completely raunchy and idiotic, but occasionally when the film plays more on the clever side. The gags never ruin their welcome and even the supporting cast manages to squeeze in a few memorable lines. Will Forte gets an extensive supporting role which I’d almost consider a main role, because he seems to show up every ten or fifteen minutes.
The alien work is great and parts of the film feel lifted straight from a cheesy horror sci-fi invasion film, which is a big compliment. Shaffer is clearly poking fun, but he never offends. It’s hard to narrow down where the film exceeds expectations. The core cast does what’s expected of them, but either the direction or the writing really launches the film into the really good category. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg had a hand in the writing, which clearly shows whenever a dick joke makes its way to the screen, but some of that general weirdness feels very much like Shaffer’s previous film, Hot Rod, which is a hidden gem.
I can already see most people writing off The Watch as another forgettable comedy that isn’t bad, but just not all that good or note-worthy, but I’m inclined to say that The Watch is a rock-solid summer comedy that we’ve been desperately needing to break up the comic book madness between Avengers, Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises. The only other R-rated comedies I can even think of are Ted and The Dictator. Seth MacFarlane‘s teddy bear comedy fails more than it succeeds, making it a bummer of a comedy and Sacha Baron Cohen‘s latest is just that; another funny SBC comedy that pokes at some of our current political issues, with most of the jokes riding on the shock factor and not so much on the subtlety.
The Watch is neither of those films, instead it’s much better. It’s hilarious when it wants to be and downright creepy when it needs to be, thanks to Billy Crudup as the weird neighbor. Stiller and Vaughn don’t get points for originality, but their respective shticks work well with Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade. The Watch is mostly dumb fun that works a lot more than it should and that’s because of Akiva Shaffer‘s zany direction and his ability to keep the film fun, light, harmless and comical.
The Watch – 8/10