Friday, November 2, 2012

The Cinema File #10: "The Watch" Review

The best thing I can say about The Watch is that while it is not very funny, it is also not painfully unfunny, as so many comedies of its type nowadays tend to be. As I watched, never too engaged, but never annoyed either, my mind kept going back to Ivan Reitman's Evolution, another movie that seemed to proudly strive for just good enough without trying to build upon a central vision, even as it tried to ape the feel and tone of a much better movie, in that case Ghostbusters. I wanna say it makes me mad, but I can't be, not because it's really good in some way, but because I don't see any potential for it to have been better, so it was impossible to disappoint me. I nothing this movie. As I watched The Watch, I kept trying to figure out exactly what movie it was trying and failing to be like, maybe some cross between Old School and Men In Black, and by the end, it stopped mattering to me, because the whole bland mess was over with and I was happy to just move on. It wasn't a chore to sit through, I didn't agonize over it or learn anything. It didn't add anything to my life, positively or negatively. I feel as if I would have accomplished the same with my night had I simply left the TV off and sat in the dark. It is essentially the cinematic equivalent of a non-commital shrug. Probably not the best reaction, huh?

The story follows a group of bumbling Ohioans who come together essentially at random to form a neighborhood watch and track down the killer of a security guard at the local Costco, which inevitably thrusts them into defending the Earth against a secret alien invasion. The product placement does chafe a bit, but again, trying to arouse any passion around this film, even anger, is a futile gesture, quashed as the attempt is by the undeniable weight of Meh. I find myself grasping for little touches that amuse me, a cameo by R. Lee Ermey, the weirdness of Billy Crudup, who is far too good for this movie, and the slight uptick in action at the end when the aliens' weakness is revealed, which, I have to admit, made me chuckle for the first time in twenty minutes or so. I will say that I did enjoy the practical effects work on the aliens, even if the design was a bit boring. Anytime a movie decides to forgo 100% CGI garbage and actually try to have a physical entity in the room with the other actors, it deserves credit at this point, considering how many so often take the lazy route. That being said, everything else about the movie is the lazy route. The aliens are given no real dimension and their plan is without any sort of complexity. If I could bring myself to care, I'd find it offensively unoriginal.

For the record, It's not that there aren't funny things in the movie, it's just that they are drowned out by the vast swathes of things that it seems the people involved think are funny, but simply aren't. Part of this might be my own bias, both due to my general malaise when it comes to three of the four actors involved, and to my distaste for the kind of improvisational, "we don't need a script" style of dialogue (what I call the "I Fucking Hate Will Ferrell" method). It's a cliche at this point to talk about movies where all the funny moments are in the trailer, but this one really lives up to that. To the movies' credit, I still laughed a bit, even after I had seen them played out many times, but everything else just fell flat. It's a lot of absurd non-sequiters, sort of proto-Adult Swim kind of jokes, and a few odd ball characters thrown in like the cops, who I would say don't fit the tone, if only I could figure out what tone they were working for in the first place. The movie is at its best, as much as that can be said, when we see a bunch of idiots playing around with forces that are beyond them, like the scene with the orb weapon and the party with what they think is an alien corpse (both of which turn up in the trailer). Anything else worth laughing at is few and far between, and certainly not worth sitting through over two hours of movie to get to.

Still, no one in the movie is outright terrible. Vince Vaughn is the same character he plays in every movie, the fast talking guy who thinks he's funnier than he is, and Ben Stiller plays the nerdy straight man you've seen him play in countless other movies. I remember thinking that my main problem with the similar Stiller/Vaughn team up Dodgeball was that Stiller recycled the same role he played in the far superior Heavyweights, but here, I found myself wishing he'd just do that again, so that I'd at least have one character I liked. Jonah Hill seems oddly miscast (as if that's ever not been the case), and the one actor I was holding out hope for, Richard Ayoade, is given very little to do. The reason for this becomes clear by the end, but its a story contrivance that comes at the cost of utilizing a great comic actor to his full potential. If you dislike Vince Vaughn as much as I do, this is the apotheosis of everything not to like about him, but again, I can't say I wasn't expecting it. There is virtually no attempt to flesh any of the main quartet out as characters or give them meaningful arcs to follow. They pay lip service to the need for drama with Vaughn's character wary of his teenage daughter's promiscuity and Stiller's inadequacy at finding out that he is sterile, but it never amounts to anything. The one time I did feel any flash of emotion at this movie, it was in the mild insult at Stiller's plight, that his inability to give his wife the child she wants is akin to the end of the world, because, you know, adoption isn't a fucking option or anything.

I can't recommend this movie, nor can I really summon up any great will to rail against its flaws. All I can do is forget it ever happened, as America soon will, if it hasn't already done so. The Watch doesn't bother trying to be memorable or interesting, so I will oblige it by not remembering it, or showing any interest in it going forward, and so should you.

Sorry, I think some of that might be a little on the elitist side, sort of a high falootan, unintentional Ebert impression. I'll make sure to see if I can lower the bar next time.

For more reviews in The Cinema File, CLICK HERE
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