Agonising cinema has a name: The Watch
What’s black and white, has eight legs, four heads and sucks continuously for 100 minutes?
Anyone guessing “the lead cast of The Watch” gets a gold star and the assurance that the above “joke” is funnier than 97% of anything Ben Stiller’s new flick has to offer. Partnered with Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade, it’d be difficult to believe that Stiller’s ensemble of truly funny actors could be this groan-inducing were the evidence of this extended Costco commercial not so remarkably overwhelming. Masquerading as a science-fiction comedy, The Watch never comes close to convincingly representing either genre, as the stars sleepwalk through its listless plot.
The Watch is immediately and unrelentingly stupid, as Stiller’s Evan Trautwig proclaims to be on the look-out for a black friend. Yes, The Watch is that kind of movie. Following the suspicious murder of a colleague, Evan decides to form a neighbourhood watch in order to find the killer, because that’s exactly how those groups work. He resorts to delivering a recruitment speech during the half-time break at a local football game. Unfunny fart noises and Vaughn desperately attempting to play a Russian nesting doll for laughs ensue. It’s all as much fun as it sounds and things get no better once the four stars team-up. Unless, of course, the idea of a guy in the backseat of a car peeing into a beer can sounds appealing. While the boys have their meetings and stake-outs, ensuring that Costco gets plenty of shop-front face-time, an alien presence is quietly terrorising their formerly quiet suburb. Once the two factions come face-to-face, the sounds of barrel scraping can be heard in the distance while The Watch goes from bad to worse.
Ayoade and, to a lesser degree, Hill struggle to make a mark here, but it is only their efforts that prevent The Watch from staking a clear spot at the top of the year’s worst list. That being said, both are capable of a whole lot more than what director Akiva Schaffer gently squeezes out of them. However, it’s difficult to exactly determine who’s at fault for The Watch being so utterly craptastic. The script as penned by Evan Goldberg, Jared Stern and Seth Rogen (who was wise enough to not appear in this cinematic colostomy bag) is incredibly weak, but it takes the supreme laziness exhibited by Stiller and Vaughn to truly sink the film. When he’s on, Vaughn can be ridiculously funny with his deadpan approach. When he’s off (and here he’s so off the switch seems to be broken), it’s downright painful. Whatever improvised dialogue that has made the cut reflects poorly on the originally scripted dialogue, as none of the banter between the four-some is even mildly entertaining. Too often the “vulgarity is hilarious” tactic is employed and proves, yet again, that the key to successful comedy is almost entirely in the delivery. Neither Stiller nor Vaughn can be bothered to adhere to that basic tenet at any point during The Watch.
From a production point of view, The Watch is competently made, so even if it is entirely joyless and tedious, it is, at least technically, watchable. As a Costco advert, it will either encourage people rush out to stock up on bulk goods or inspire them to torch their nearest location to the ground. It could easily go either way.
When the best thing that can be said about a film is that it may or may not lead to people burning down the sponsor’s shops, viewers are going to be in for a rough ride. So it goes with The Watch. A lazy, laugh-less script brought to life by lethargic, bland performances means everyone loses. Even the most ardent critic of similar buddy and alien flick Paul, will be ready to deem it a masterpiece compared this is piece of a very different type from Stiller and co. This is a close encounter to avoid at all costs. 3/10