For a movie that had apparently been in development since 2008, The Watch certainly feels like something that was thrown together at the last minute. Reading even a little into the film’s background, you would think it had all the elements to be a comedy hit. First and foremost, it was developed with Ghostbusters in mind: the plot revolving around a group of everyday guys (played of course by comedic actors) banding together to take on an alien invasion. Take that tried-and-true premise, put Akiva Schaffer of Lonely Island fame in the director’s chair, and bring aboard Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to rewrite the script and suddenly this movie looks very promising. But as history has proven, a cool concept and dream crew don’t always guarantee a good film. Just ask RoboCop 2, which had everything going for it from Irvin Kershner and Frank Miller at the helm to being a sequel to FREAKIN’ ROBOCOP! Or the more recent cancelled Superman project with Tim Burton as director and Kevin Smith writing the script. With a formulae like these, you’d think “How could they possibly screw it up?”
Believe me, they can … and they will.
Unfortunately, The Watch feels less like the brilliant lovechild of some of the biggest names in comedy and more like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster with various incompatible pieces forced together, resulting in this tragic heap that isn’t quite sure what it’s supposed to be.
I’ve seen enough versions of the movie to know that existential crises never end well.
The main issue of The Watch is that it can’t seem to decide whether it’s a raunchy comedy or a gory sci-fi chiller. The tone and pacing of the film suffers dramatically because of this, resulting in many attempts at building humour or suspense being undermined by jarring switches from one genre to the other. One scene features the neighbourhood watch (comprised of Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughn, and Richard Ayoade) singing along to BTO’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” and hilariously messing up the lyrics and a few scenes later, they’re staring at the bloody, mangled corpse of R. Lee Ermey. One minute, Jonah Hill’s trying to put the moves on Ben Stiller’s wife and the next, a police officer is brutally murdered by an alien shoving its claw through his chest. Then there are the instances where the film tries really hard to seamlessly blend the two genres, but instead we’re treated to some of its more unsettling moments such as when the gang supposedly kills an alien and proceeds to desecrate its body while posing for pictures like they’re in a really twisted Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel.
And for those movies, that’s saying A LOT!
I’m not saying that comedies should be void of gore. Evil Dead 2 plays the gore up to exaggerated levels specifically for laughs. Shaun of the Dead uses it to remind the viewer of the severity of the protagonists’ situation in a type of dramatic juxtaposition. While The Watch presents a similar juxtaposition, it seems like not much thought was put into why it’s there. This is problematic because it leaves audiences unsure about how they should feel about what’s going on in the film. If the audience can’t decide whether they should be amused or afraid, they’ll naturally respond by being neither.
Another contributing factor is that the aliens feel like an afterthought and their scenes play out without much regard for what they do for the film overall. This doesn’t have to do with just the gore, but the entire plot surrounding them. The aliens are void of any motivation, logic, or real personality. They’re malevolent and want to invade Earth, but we’re never given any explanation beyond “They’re aliens. It’s what they do.” Phase One of their master plan (don’t worry, no spoilers) involves them infiltrating the human race by killing random people, stealing their skin, and assuming their identities, but they leave the bodies of people they’ve killed lying around to be discovered by innocent bystanders and the police. You would think their disguises would be rendered useless, but the film seems to ignore this gaping plot hole so we can have all these crazy twists at the end when we discover which characters are actually aliens (hint: it’s the least developed ones). I’m not sure how the alien plot was handled in the original script, but in the rewrite it feels like it exists solely for the purpose of giving the main characters something to do.
The Watch, I suppose, is watchable (hey look, a pun), but just barely. It has some chuckle-worthy moments and a few amusing cameos to keep you engaged plus the alien effects are actually pretty cool, but most of this is ultimately overlooked as a result of disjointed pacing and ever-changing tone as the film clumsily switches back and forth between genres. Do yourself a favour and stick to Ghostbusters.
It gets 2.5/5.