Review: ‘The Watch’ Squanders its Promise

The introductory scene in Ben Stiller’s latest comedy “The Watch” is delightful.

In a montage both funny and surprisingly sweet, Evan (Stiller) takes us on a tour of his Midwestern life: his quiet, idyllic town, his astonishingly satisfying career as a manager at Costco, and his sexually unexciting but warm marriage to Abby (Rosemary DeWitt). What’s more, Costco’s night watchman has just become an American citizen, an accomplishment he celebrates by getting a big ole American tattoo and living large inside the darkened Costco.

The whole thing is funny without being mean or mocking and we begin to think that this comedy might be a send up of the trend in Hollywood to look down at “fly over country” and people living happy, normal lives. A sort of tribute to the everyday man.

But then the aliens kill that night watchmen and Vince Vaughn breaks out his first genitalia joke and we lose the buzz.

You see, once Evan discovers the dead night watchman, he organizes a neighborhood watch. Bob (Vaughn) joins because he’s effectively single parenting his daughter while his wife travels and needs some man time. Franklin (Jonah Hill) signs up to have the power and prestige denied him when he failed the police exam. And Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade)? Well, we’re not exactly sure why he’s there, although it may have something to do with hot, lonely women.

The boys quickly switch from foul-mouthed vigilantes to foul-mouthed alien hunters. The movie can’t decide if it wants to be a crude comedy or a suspenseful alien thriller.

In this case, their path to saving the Costco and the world from aliens leads, as so often is the case in these movies, to a raging teen party and an adult orgy. And genitalia jokes. Lots of genitalia jokes.

Did I mention the movie is rated R? In addition to the long, elaborate, explicit genitalia jokes, there is pervasive language, some violence, sexual situations, and some nudity in the context of that aforementioned orgy scene.

Which all sounds exciting, I’m sure, but it’s not.

Turns out, there are only so many jokes you can make about the male sex organ. And most of them have been made earlier and better than this film.

It’s a shame too, because the underlying characters are pretty likable. Stiller’s Evan may be boring, but he’s a good guy contented with his life, his wife, and his future. Vaughn’s Bob has one mission in life: To protect the virtue of his teenage daughter from the boys (or aliens) who are hell-bent on violating it. He’s closer to church-going conservative than Hollywood libertine, if it weren’t for that potty mouth.

Franklin, however, is a little more unfortunate. The film first encountered controversy when it was titled “Neighborhood Watch.” In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting by a neighborhood watchman, the studio changed the name to “The Watch.” Now, a week after the  Aurora shootings, Jonah Hill’s cop wannabe character is a humorous take on the unhinged weirdo with a unsettling arsenal of lethal weapons under his bed and an unhealthy fascination with paramilitary paraphernalia.

It doesn’t seem so funny this week.

If it were a better movie, we could get past the cringe-inducing reminders of the Colorado horror.

As it is, better to skip the whole thing and hope Stiller recovers his Zoolander magic the next time around.

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