By Don Simpson | July 26, 2012
Director: Akiva Schaffer
Writers: Jared Stern, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Starring: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie DeWitt, Will Forte, Mel Rodriguez, Doug Jones, Erin Moriarty, Nicholas Braun, R. Lee Ermey, Joe Nunez
Akiva Schaffer’s The Watch opens with a not-so-clever bit about white bread life in the American Midwest. As Evan (Ben Stiller) jogs around his Utopian, suburban town the joke seems to be on him. Evan wants to have a lot of friends, especially ethnic ones. He has an Indian friend, a Korean friend, and he is currently in the market for a black friend. (This all seems like a badly conceived SNL sketch.) This is why Evan has started a bunch of crazy clubs — running club, Spanish club, etc. — to force people to hang out with him.
Evan is the manager of the local Costco. On one fateful night, Evan runs into the nighttime security guard, Antonio Guzman (Joe Nunez), a Hispanic immigrant who has just passed his U.S. citizenship exam. Evan is quite proud of his growing collection of ethnic friends; now that Antonio is a card-carrying member of the U.S. of A., he becomes another trophy for Evan’s mantel.
Just when it seems The Watch has pushed Evan’s acceptance of “others” a bit too far, the film turns into an alien invasion flick — specifically an alien invasion flick in which aliens might be disguised as humans. We have all seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers, right? Well, it is impossible to tell if The Watch is lampooning the fear-mongering that is inherent in aliens-disguised-as-humans films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or if it is actually taking its own plot seriously. In fact, nothing is ever what it seems, especially The Watch‘s opinion of “others,” as well as its opinion of Evan and his neighborhood watch crew — Bob (Vince Vaughn), Franklin (Jonah Hill), and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade).
The gaggle of screenwriters (Jared Stern, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg) obviously tries to set up Evan as being overly accepting of “others” then turn his world so upside down that he is forced to fear practically everyone. If they could pull that trick off more smoothly, maybe the plot of The Watch would be more effective. Instead, the much-too-clever-for-their-own-good screenwriters muddy up the narrative with a lot of useless information, primarily Evan’s sexual issues and Bob’s parenting issues. All the while, Franklin is revealed to be a one-dimensional caricature of a nutso vigilante and Jamarcus is…well…just another geeky British guy played by Richard Ayoade.
Entering the screening, I had some glimmer of hope that this all star comedic foursome of Stiller, Vaughn, Hill and Ayoade might be able to pull off some sort of magic; unfortunately, the magic never happens. These four actors represent very distinct styles of comedy and The Watch is never able find a way to make their comedic styles work in harmony with each other.
The Watch tries to be a very masculine film, saturated with mindless, testosterone-fueled humor. I can sometimes deal with “manly” (in this case, boyish) jokes, but even the fleeting memories of the film’s long-winded sketch mocking the Abu Ghraib photos still completely spoils my mood. The script is fascinated with the masculine need for dominance, whether it be by using a penis, gun or knife. The Watch seems overly fixated on male genitalia (and other phallic metaphors), continuously going out of its way to squeeze in as many penis and cum jokes as possible. The women of The Watch are embarrassingly passive, sexual objects. Using the logic of The Watch, anyone (especially women) without a fully functioning penis (or gun) is powerless. Instead, women are repeatedly represented as vacant orifices that serve as mere receptacles for penises, including Evan’s sex-starved wife, Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt). Heck, even the aliens want a piece of that action. I doubt that Schaffer and his screenwriters are particularly anti-women, they just do not put any effort into developing the female characters. It is all just a bunch of pathetic and ridiculous nonsense.