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The Watch

Director: Akiva Schaffer
Cast: Ben Still, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Rosemarie DeWitt, Richard Ayoade, Will Forte, Doug Jones

(20th Century Fox; US theatrical: 27 Jul 2012 (General release); UK theatrical: 29 Aug 2012 (General release); 2012)

Mount Up

“I don’t have a black friend yet,” says Evan (Ben Stiller) by way of introducing himself and his life in Glenview, Ohio. “But I’m in the market.” Moreover, he adds, he knows an “Indian man,” smiles at the Korean lady who regularly squirts him with her lawn hose, and he looks genuinely pleased when he hears that Antonio (Joe Nunez), the night watchman down at the Costco Evan manages, has passed his US citizenship exam. As Evan extols these examples of his commitment to “diversity,” The Watch runs a series of illustrative sight gags, all familiar and none too memorable. Right: Stiller’s playing another nice-enough schlub who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, his ignorance helping viewers feel smart.


Your expectations are hardly dashed when Evan discovers that not diversity isn’t all brief and meaningless encounters. When Antonio is ripped to pieces one night at the Costco—and also when the local police chief, Sgt. Bressman (Will Forte) appears on TV to encourage citizens to help out in the search for killer—Evan is inspired to start up a neighborhood watch. His volunteers’ reasons for joining are decidedly motley: Bob (Vince Vaughn) is looking for masculine camaraderie, Franklin (Jonah Hill) wants to play cop, having been rejected by the PD (and Bressman in particular), and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) wants to be seduced by a “young sexy Asian housewife: she sucks my balls.” Evan, not incidentally, has his own manly man issues, as his wife Abby (Rosemary DeWitt) is pressing him to have a baby—even as he never seems to have time for sex.


Instead, Evan focuses on the watch, imagining that he and his new friends will solve the case and stop the brutal assailant from striking again. This even though none of the guys is impressed by Evan’s watch handbook or map of the neighborhood or efforts to put up flyers or stake out the Costco. They are, however, more than happy to wear jackets adorned with flaming, flying tigers and also to hang out in Bob’s basement and drink beer.


Insisting that he’s made a promise to Antonio’s wife to avenge his death, Evan finds ways to avoid Abby and spend time patrolling the neighborhood. It’s not too deep into this series of episodes passing as a plot that the watch guys find another dead body and also the culprit, an alien from outer space (Doug Jones, recruited yet again to play a tall, bendy reptilian creature). When they accidentally knock the visitor flat, they believe it’s dead and haul it back to the basement to take photos with the corpse, complete with sunglasses and raunchy poses.


The antics are silly and vulgar and inconsequential. They also lead to the revelation that the aliens are already “living among you.” This bit of news gets them wondering whom they can trust, who might be from another planet. It also send them on a series of subplots, mostly unrelated, as they must reckon with their competing notions of manhood, their family obligations, and oh yes, a coming alien invasion. In another movie, this might last be a focus, but here it only occasions lots of jokes about penis size, alien weaponry, and jizz—and oh yes, breasts.


This last is key. For a few minutes and in assorted scenes, girls and women appear in states of undress: Abby offers herself on the dining room table in an effort to get her husband’s attention, Franklin keeps a stash of magazines alongside his weapons collection, and Bob worries that his daughter is headed to a party at a house where the drinks are plentiful and the parents are absent (and Franklin tries to offer himself to a pair of buxom blond twins). The Watch even spends a few minutes at a neighborhood orgy, so that Evan can gape and fret and marvel at the sheer number of sex toys available.


These detours in the plot are, of course, just that, episodes to fill time and occasion dropped jaws and more jokes about not getting laid. But they’re about something else too. For even as the watch guys come together to fight invading aliens, they bond repeatedly and more emphatically over their failures with women. Evan has to sort out his marriage, Franklin’s still living with his mom (Patricia French), Jamarcus pursues his dream girl, and Bob is competing with an exceptionally virile teenage boy (Nicholas Braun) for the attention of his daughter (Erin Moriarty). These relationships—tense, silly, or obnoxious—serve as supplemental plot, ways to make the watch men heterosexual or human, at least compared to the slimy aliens. They also underscore that the men remain mystified by the aliens who live among them, also known as women.

Rating:

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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