The fingerprints of recent British film successes are plastered all over the latest science fiction/comedy hybrid to wing its way across the Atlantic. With more than a touch of Attack The Block, a healthy hint of Hot Fuzz and the wise addition of our very own Richard Ayoade, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s enough here to draw UK audiences to what was supposed to be the sleeper comedy of the summer. Don’t be fooled. If this is an American take on ‘our’ comedy it’s up there with ‘their’ television remakes of Spaced, Fawlty Towers and Red Dwarf. Or to put it simply, it’s absolutely awful.
Evan is an everyday Joe with fertility issues. When a security guard is murdered at the Costco that he manages, Evan takes it upon himself to construct a Neighbourhood Watch to bring those responsible to justice. Recruiting over-protective jabbermouth Bob, gun-loving psychotic Franklin and peculiar new neighbour Jamarcus, Evan throws himself into his new task of community protection with gusto. The others, much to Evan’s frustration, are more concerned with having a good time than actually watching any neighbourhoods. Until, that is, they find evidence that the killer may not have been of this world…
Ben Stiller, despite not having made a genuinely decent comedy in nearly a decade, is still an A-list star worthy of attention. Jonah Hill is currently enjoying the triumphant trio of an Oscar nomination (Moneyball), a co-scripting and starring role in one of the year’s better surprises (21 Jump Street) and a decreased belt size. Richard Ayoade is, well, he’s Richard Ayoade and his every tiny movement is naturally funny. So why is The Watch such an unmitigated disaster, devoid of even a single working joke?
You could put a fair amount of blame on Vince Vaughn’s shoulders, sucking the life out of every scene with his two-lines-quick shtick that’s as one-note as a Steinway missing 87 keys. You could blame the flat direction. Or the uneasy balance of fucks, shits and vaginas with hugging, learning and a propensity to conclude every scene with a speech that promotes Captain Obvious to Admiral.
Away from the final product’s myriad faults, The Watch is testament to how the slumping American economy has made it even more difficult to get an original concept through a studio. The struggle to raise the collateral needed to make a big budget movie (an estimated $70m was spunked away on this) not based on best-selling tween fiction or featuring a man in a cape and cowl is evident in the endless product placement on display throughout. From name-brand laundry detergent to well known batteries hocked by over-enthusiastic rabbits, the finale is more advert than ending.
Away from the British connection mentioned before, the other obvious target aimed for would be a modern day Ghostbusters, with four men out of their depth struggling against potentially world-destroying opposition. But where Reitman and company managed to centre their conclusion around a popular confectionery snack, there was a gag inherent in the choice. The decision to set Act 3 of The Watch in a Costco (think Tesco for Amercians) is done simply, and only, for the dollar.
Who’s watching The Watch men? With any luck, absolutely no-one. Lacking originality, depth of character or, crucially, laughs of any kind, this is a new career low for everyone involved. Considering some of the past atrocities on the actor’s résumés (Little Fockers, Couples Retreat, Evan Almighty, etc) that really is as damning a statement as intended.