Look, it’s summer, it’s hot and we just need to chill out. Like the person who invented iced tea and swimming pools, whoever invented the concept of the Summer Movie just got it, just knew that, in general, sometimes over the course of a summer, you need to put your brain on “pause”, go to a dumb movie and be entertained.
All of which leads to my point here, “Excuse me if I really liked The Watch.” The film is really dumb and doesn’t even try not to be. You know, going into a film starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill, that it could be “about” almost anything and that the real attraction is seeing funny people being funny and here, that is exactly what you get. Yes, I can be a film snob with the best of them and I came into the film with a “Great, let’s see what kind of crap Hollywood is throwing at us now” attitude but, you know what, I laughed a lot.
The story focuses on bland, suburban Costco general manager Evan Trautwig (Stiller) who decides to form a neighborhood watch group after his overnight security guard is brutally murdered. The meticulous and, ultimately, sort of lonely Evan prepares an elaborate recruitment presentation and game plan for his new group but when the only three people who show up as volunteers are man-child Bob (Vaughn), troubled police academy reject Franklin (Hill) and British ex-pat Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) things quickly go awry.
I tell my film students that movies are like your diet. You know that you should eat a lot of preferably local, organic fruits and vegetables, limit your meats, grains, dairy and have sweets sparingly. Everyone knows that we should eat that way and few of us do. It’s the same thing with film, you should consume a well-balanced mix of different kinds of movies, leaning heavier on intelligent, artistically ambitious films made by earnest, educated, passionate storytellers who want to share a worldview with an audience and, if you want to see some cinematic junk food now and then, go for it.
The Watch is the movie equivalent of a Three Musketeers bar, really good going down even though you know how bad it is for you and wind up feeling guilty about enjoying it so much.
On the subject of enjoyment, I can’t remember the last time that watching Vince Vaughn was so much fun. I have to admit that, I can’t remember what the last Vince Vaughn film that I saw was but I am pretty sure that I came away from it with an “enough already” feeling about the limits of his rapid-fire, obnoxious wise-guy schtick. So, who knows, maybe I have just been so checked out of the Vince Vaughn scene for so long that I lost track of what he’s been up to or maybe this film marks a genuine return to “form.” In any event, he is really funny in it.
Between his “indie” turn in Cyrus and his Oscar-nominated performance in Moneyball, Jonah Hill has been spreading his wings a bit lately and here, he tries to stretch slightly, playing an “edgy” character who is basically a darker version of the guy he usually plays and he does just fine.
Stiller is in the unenviable position of playing it relatively straight in this scenario. We know that he can play that sort of regular guy who gets caught up in extraordinary circumstances that cause him to stutter, stammer and otherwise struggle to make himself heard but I think that we also know that he is capable of doing much more.
If anything, The Watch will probably be remembered as the movie that introduced Ayoade to wider, mainstream American audiences. Ayoade, a British comic actor and director (his low-key 2011 coming of age comedy-drama Submarine is highly recommended), is a delight here. Okay, sure there is a theory that everything sounds better with a British accent but Ayoade has charm and comic timing to spare. Expect to see more of him.
So, there you have it, just when you thought that the raunchy, R-rated comedy trend had finally begun to run its course, comes another film that is likely to make lots of people laugh really hard or, at least, cool them off on a hot summer night.
The Watch opens today in Philly-area theaters.
Author: David J. Greenberg
David J. Greenberg teaches screenwriting at University of the Arts and Arcadia University. He has been hired to write or doctor over 30 feature film screenplays. His film “The True Meaning of Cool” won an award from the American Film Institute. davidjgreenberg.com