Monday, August 6, 2012

Film Review: The Watch

In comedy, timing is everything. And even the funniest written jokes can fall flat without out a crisp, sharp, and tight delivery. On paper, The Watch is very funny. But there is a bit a slip twixt the screen and the script.

Humor is a very subjective thing. For me, Ben Stiller is one of those actors whose humor I just miss. Like Tina Fey, I can see the wit in the jokes, but the funniness of it just doesn't quite connect with me. Other comedies of his like Zoolander and Tropic Thunder always sound funny to me but then miss hitting my funny bone.

The movie stars Ben Stiller as Evan, a bland, straight-laced manager of the local Costco in his beloved Glenview, OH. When one of his security guards is killed Evan takes it upon himself to form a neighborhood watch. It attracts only 3 participants: borderline psychotic Franklin (Jonah Hill), lustful divorcee Jamarkus (Richard Ayode), and I-Just-Need-To-Get-Out-Of-The-House dad Bob (Vince Vaughn). This gang of misfits stumble through paroling the neighborhood until they stumble upon the larger problem: aliens. Glenview is ground zero for a massive alien invasion and it is up to the Neighborhood watch to stop them.

The idea of a gang of morons having to save the day can be comedy gold. And to be sure, the film has its share of laughs. Vince Vaughn is particularly good as wound-up dad of a teenage daughter. He milks the frustration he feels for lots of laughs. His time with the watch is seen as a pressure release valve for him to cut loose and stream a lot of manly vulgarity. The rest of the cast also does a decent job, each getting a few funny moments. Stiller holds the movie together with his incredibly likeable portrayal of Evan. He could have easily been a simple satire of suburban life. But Stiller fills Evan with such sincerity to see the good in other and complete love for his home that we can't help but like him, even when struggling with his long-suffering wife Abby (Rosemarie Dewitt).

The main problem with The Watch is the directing. The visuals are fine, but director Akiva Schaffer does not know how to cut for effect. The movie feels very heavy on improvisation, and improv is 90% crap in hopes of hitting 10% funny. When Vaughn or Hill go off on a funny riff, Schaffer lets the jokes play out until it stops being funny. For example, when the watch find an alien body, they decide to do funny poses with the corpse. This starts as a very funny scene, but it goes on too long, and the laughs do not linger. The trick is to hit the joke and move on. This method was used with great effect in this summer's funniest movie, Ted. For that movie, writer/director Seth MacFarland has had to work within the tight time constraints of television, thus forcing his jokes to come fast and furious. Schaffer stretches his movie a bit long even at 102 minutes.

The movie is also very much earned its R rating. The violence worked well for the movie in the same way that the over-the-top violence of Shawn of the Dead fit the humor. But the over-sexualized language felt a little forced, as if that would enough to sell a joke. And there is one unexpected scene of gratuitous nudity that it really took me out of the movie.

Vaughn does his best to carry the humor, but this is not his movie. It is Stiller's. It is not a bad movie. It will make you laugh.

But not too much.

3 out of 5 stars.

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