There is a particular type of comedy film that seems to be best represented by “Ghostbusters,” the special-effect high-concept comedy. And aside from “Ghostbusters,” there are very few of these films which manage to find the perfect balance between the various elements at work in them. Even Ivan Reitman tried to do it again with “Evolution” and fell short, so it seems like a tough challenge to take on for any filmmaker.
Even so, Akiva Schaffer’s new movie “The Watch” makes a valiant run at it, and for a little while, the film coasts on the charms of the central quartet of actors who come together around Evan (Ben Stiller), a Costco manager who has an unnerving amount of community spirit. When he founds a neighborhood watch group to help solve the murder of a security guard at his store, he ends up with three eccentric new friends. Bob is a perfect Vince Vaughn role, a sweetheart of a guy who has a strained relationship with his teenage daughter because of his overprotective nature. Franklin (Jonah Hill) is a way-too-intense twenty-something who tried to become a cop but was rejected. Finally, there’s Jamarcus, played by Richard Ayoade, best known to American audiences from his role in “The IT Crowd.” Together, they spend a fair amount of the film screwing around and bonding over nonsense. They are a joke to everyone else in the neighborhood, and for a while, the film just sort of ambles along, shaggy and silly and fun.
There was that pesky issue of the murder, though. And when the film finally gets around to that again, it takes a left turn into science-fiction, and suddenly we’ve got CGI beasties and laser guns and weird neighbors and it’s a very different film. There are still laughs to be had, but eventually things start to get more plot-oriented, and it’s so indifferent to the actual mechanics of the alien invasion and the third act running and yelling and shooting and whatever that it’s hard to care how things turn out. I’m also not really sold on the omnipresent nature of Costco’s involvement in the film. It’s one of those weird missteps in terms of how much product placement is too much, but if that sort of thing doesn’t bother you at all, you may not even notice it. When the punchine of the movie is basically the same as the company’s slogan, though, that seems like a mistake.
The script is credited to Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and it feels like one of those studio movies where there were a lot of hands on it before it ended up in front of the camera. There are some personal touches that show Schaffer’s personality, including an appearance by his Lonely Island compadres. Will Forte, Billy Crudup, R. Lee Ermy, and Rosemarie DeWitt all do nice work in roles that essentially give them one thing to do. I guess I wish they had either just done a movie about these four guys bonding while absolutely nothing of note happens to them, or a more aggressive version of the science-fiction film. It’s hard to watch this and not think of how right “Attack The Block” gets a similar premise, and if nothing else, it’s nice to see how it’s handled here because it’s makes me appreciate that film even more.
If you really like the cast, you’ll probably be modestly entertained by the film, and if you set your expectations accordingly, “The Watch” is a pleasant enough movie. But it’s Teflon, and if you want something more substantial, you won’t find it here.
“The Watch” opens everywhere today.