Do not be confused by the inept marketing campaign for this movie. It is not – as the title might suggest – a film about Ben Stiller and co finding a wristwatch; the ‘watch’ refers to a neighbourhood watch scheme he and his comedy chums set up to investigate a grisly murder at the local Costco. Anyone who was following the Trayvon Martin story in America will understand why the film’s title was changed from its original and more suited The Neighbourhood Watch to this new, misleading one.
So Stiller plays a Costco manager who fills his life with committee meetings, running clubs and any other activity he can come up with to avoid committing to children with his wife. He is forced into his latest activity – setting up a neighbourhood watch scheme – when his friend and colleague is murdered at his Costco. Step forward volunteers – the eccentric, millionaire and happily married family man Vince Vaughn, edgy loner Jonah Hill and cookie Brit Richard Ayoade. Comedy capers and hilarity ensues with the straight-laced Stiller fighting with his new “friends” for a sane and stable approach to the investigation as they go for more outlandish approaches and are more concerned with things like the design of the uniforms, logo and Vaughn’s badass rumpus room.
But the murder is far less straightforward than it originally seems as The Watch descends into Shawn of the Dead meets The Faculty in small time USA in an unexpected but rewarding twist from the original trailer. Stiller must work with his fellow wannabe detectives to tackle the intergalactic travellers before they take over his picturesque community then move on to the rest of the world.
The Watch is far better than I had expected. I do have concerns about the recent trend in films since the success of The Hangover for putting a bunch of comedians together in a wafer thin scenario and expecting them to improvise their way to comedy gold. When the dialogue flows it’s great, but sometimes, particularly in the case of last year’s horrible Horrible Bosses, you get scenes of inane chatter that just doesn’t work. You can’t always guarantee chemistry, but thankfully for everyone involved, here it does, which is one of the great strengths of The Watch.
The cast complement each other superbly and are all on great form individually. I’m much more of a fan of Stiller playing a ‘character’ ala Zoolander or Tug Speedman, and feel he’s often monotone when cats as the everyman protagonists, such as in Meet the Parents, but here he plays someone with genuine depth and emotion who undergoes changes. He’s also given some great comedy moments and not stuck being the straight man.
Jonah Hill continues to impress after his hilarious performance in 21 Jump Street. The more weight he loses the more depth and skill he gains as an actor. Richard Ayoade, getting his big American introduction, seems at ease alongside his comedy veterans and contributes some humorous moments but becomes annoying and repetitive far too quickly as he plays a slight variation of almost every other character he has played.
I’m far from a Vince Vaughn fan, his inane yammering often moves me from a light chuckle to a desire to hunt down the director and ask him why he didn’t cut Vaughn off five minutes earlier before bludgeoning him to death. But here, though he’s on his usual form, for some reason he didn’t annoy me. Perhaps it’s the quality of the script, style of direction, editing and cinematography or the chemistry with his cast members, but Vaughn surprisingly stole the show for me.
While it’s far from a great movie, I found The Watch to be very watchable. It feels very much within the same universe as the other works from the writing pair of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and in some ways feels like the film came from the conversation ‘what would the guys from Superbad do if they were confronted with killer Aliens from outer space?’ It’s hardly the most original concept and owes a lot to Shawn of the Dead and countless other movies that pitch normal people against aliens but they do derive as much humour from it as possible and director Akiva Schaffer handles it with great skill, unlike his previous effort Hot Rod.
Strong support is provided by Will Forte, Rosemarie DeWitt and Billy Crudup with R. Lee Ermey provides a memorable cameo, albeit one that you can hardly describe as a great leap for him to pull off.
Far more amusing than trailers and the poor show at the US box office would have you believe; The Watch packs more laughs, shocks and interesting plot and character twists than any comedy of this ilk I can recall this year.
The Watch is released in UK cinemas from Friday.
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