DIRECTED BY AKIVA SCHAFFER
STARRING: BEN STILLER, VINCE VAUGHN, JONAH HILL, RICHARD AYOADE, ROSEMARIE DEWITT, WILL FORTE, DOUG JONES, ERIN MORIARTY and BILLY CRUDUP
‘the Watch,’ previously called ‘Neighbourhood Watch,’ doesn’t start with the usual crash-land of spaceship or meteorite that’d give the entire plot away. There’s never been a movie where the alien wins. There’s only been those, occasionally, where there isn’t a battle as such. Seth Rogen’s involvement (as co-writer, along with buddy Evan Goldberg and Jared Stern) takes you back to the likes of ‘Paul’ on how a mildly successful comedy could be, in terms of contemporary entertainment value. ‘the Watch,’ in comparison, has very few laughs, all in bad taste. The sad part is that you think these characters deserve better.
Perhaps this could be accounted for by my familiarity with Rogen and his work, but I could almost see ‘the Watch’ shaping up – in the writer’s room and out. Firstly, I think it’s kind of sad that they had to change the title. The ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ poster with the ‘Say no to Aliens’ sign on it gave you some idea on what you were up against. Even though ‘the Watch’ doesn’t exactly keep it a secret – its premise is established in the sequence that immediately follows the opening credits – you’re still confused on what the movie is about.
The opening credits show a middle-aged man doing middle-aged things about a town called Glenview in Ohio, keeping away from his over-eager wife. He’s in a lot of clubs, we find, but does nothing that means anything. Is this a film about purpose, then? Would it raise the existential question and drop it without an answer, taking to convincing instead, making it a bittersweet mid-life experience of sorts? Ben Stiller, the man who’s perfect for the role, has himself been in a couple of movies where the lacklustre individual finds himself in the midst of the extraordinary. If the ‘Night at the Museum’ movies amount to anything at all, that is.
“He’s the perfect guy,” I can hear Rogen say. “He’s a little less sorted out, you know, because he’s got PG-13 morals in an R-rated comedy. And he breaks his course because he can’t make pit-stops, you know? But he thinks he’s still in the race. And he needs all these people, all these buddies of his, to run the long road with him. A road where they end up busting alien balls together instead.”
In ‘Knocked Up,’ there’s a scene where Rogen, playing Ben – an epitome of wasted humanness – asks Alison (Katherine Heigl) who works for ‘E!’ if she’s interviewed Vince Vaughn. He then tells her how he thinks Vaughn would be amazing to hang out with, and how, unlike other celebrity fantasies, he actually thinks his company would be something Vaughn would enjoy. ‘the Watch’ sees Rogen write for that man, which could’ve been a dream come true. They’re different comedians with some striking similarities, I’ve observed. Vaughn strikes me as a person with a slightly more impressionable conscience than Rogen, but that’s about it. They’ve played to their strengths in picking Vaughn for a role. Rogen couldn’t have possibly let him down.
Franklin (Jonah Hill) is Shia Labeouf’s Mutt Williams gone rogue. I’ve previously expressed how fatigued I am with Hill’s brand of comedy. To put it simply, it hasn’t changed a bit. Franklin does poor switchblade and is even worse as a shot. He’s in the Watch so that he could join the force that rejected him before – and unceremoniously at that. His timing is impeccable, but his jokes suck. ‘Cyrus,’ ‘the Sitter,’ ’21 Jump Street.’ I can count the number of times he’s played an individual who shuttles between a man and an adolescent so fast he doesn’t linger anywhere for long. In fact, I don’t think he’s played anything else. Back in ‘Superbad’ times, he worked as a Rogen duplicate, hired because he looked younger. As his own comic, he’s yet to prove his worth.
British comedian Richard Ayoade as Jamarcus is endearing because he’s exotic. And also because it’s sad to see him swayed by these gentlemen. He shows surprise at being offered a beer-can. His eyes widen when he ends up at a local orgy. Of course, all these things have reasons stated in context. He’s as funny as the other men in the plot, but when it comes to chemistry, he sticks out like a middle finger. Rosemarie Dewitt as Mrs. Trautwig (Stiller is Evan Trautwig) is wonderful in bits and pieces as the woman who craves for attention from an absent husband, but she’s stunted to a cheerleader when the big boys take over. Her husband had formed the Neighbourhood Watch. Isn’t it sensible for her to head the women’s fitness centre? She looks like she could. Rogen and Goldberg aren’t as thoughtful.
I’ll tell you what. In the first scene, a Hispanic security guard at Costco finds he’s become an American citizen. He downs a bottle of Vodka to celebrate and lights a doobie, as Kevin Smith would call it. You don’t know why he did that. He wouldn’t know why he did that; neither would Rogen. He had written and performed in ‘Pineapple Express.’ It’s the sort of movie where you don’t know which one is stoned – the actor, the character, or both. If this is him steering away from stereotype, I’d caution him not to. The guard rolls outrage into a joint and lights up. He then gets skinned by an alien. The film goes downhill from there – a trend that’s evident in the career graphs of Rogen and Goldberg, following the success of ‘Superbad’ and ‘Pineapple Express.’ They’re quite the brand. But they push their saleability. Kind of like a Magnum for a peanut-sized member. Pointless.