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'The Watch'

Director: Akiva Schaffer
Cast: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie DeWitt, Will Forte, R. Lee Ermey, Billy Crudup

(US DVD: 13 Nov 2012)

Expectations play such an important part in enjoying a film. For example I’m so ridiculously excited to see Silver Linings Playbook, it pretty much has to be as good as The Fighter, David O. Russell’s last movie, or I’ll be wretchedly disappointed. Should I temper my expectations for a better experience? Probably, but I don’t want to ignore my natural instinct to get super, incredibly, off-the-wall excited for what I whole-heartedly expect to be one of the best experiences of my life.


Plus, when it pays off, the insurmountable joy is unforgettable. Thank you, Looper.


Expectations work the other way, too. Usually, if you’re not excited about a movie, you just won’t watch it. If somehow you do stumble across it, though, because, let’s say, you have to write a review on it, and it’s better than you anticipated, then you’re going to have a darn good time. Sometimes, you can oversell it simply because you went into the film expecting so little and you came out with so much more.


I must say I found myself in this exact same scenario when I sat down to watch The Watch, a film I was dreading with almost every fiber in my being (one or two fibers were excited for the train wreck). I read the terrible reviews. I saw the box office plummet. I knew what I was in for—or so I thought.


Let me first say The Watch is not a great film. It’s much closer to a good film than a bad film, though. The story is as conventional as they come: an overly involved citizen forms a neighborhood watch group after an attack in his small town, and the group is soon overwhelmed with their newfound responsibility. Throw in some aliens and you’ve got the whole movie. There aren’t too many surprises in this script.


Luckily, there needn’t be. The selling point for this film was and is its cast. Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill are all A-list comedians, and getting them together for one film where they’re all on screen together for the majority of the movie is a minor miracle. It’s just not done that often anymore. Usually live-action comedies are made on the cheap with only one major celebrity, two tops.


It would have been preferable if they’d joined a prestigious project worthy of their talents, but I’ll settle for watching them make a mediocre comedy into a jocular at-home experience. Ben Stiller plays the straight man asked to be responsible for reigning in the rest of the men. It’s no easy task. Vince Vaughn is a party animal—an older, more obligated animal with a daughter he loves, but a good-time Joe nonetheless. Jonah Hill is a bit… off. Not enough to be wholly off-putting, but he’s noticeably deranged to the point of threatening high schoolers with a knife.


Stiller’s quirks are much more relatable, which seems like a character flaw for an outrageous comedy like this one. After all, we don’t want one of cinema’s most sharp-witted comedians relegated to the role of the wet blanket. Luckily, he grows out of it as the gang becomes more and more rambunctious. Vaughn spouts lines at a mile-a-minute. Hill mumbles obscene absurdities under his breath. Stiller goes from zero to 60 with authentic charm. Everyone joins in the fun, and it allows the audience to fully engage, as well.


If anything, The Watch is shorter than it needs to be. As illustrated by the 24 minutes of deleted scenes included on the Blu-ray, the comedy could have been much longer. A few of the scenes are obviously extraneous—I’m all for getting as much Will Forte as possible, but his one-on-one scene with Stiller does not work—but there are also a few expository gems that fill in a few minor story gaps.


Tack on all of Jonah Hill’s extra lines (the director said they weren’t sure how weird they would make them so they just let the cameras roll at the end of each scene), and this could have been a monstrous movie. Again, chop-heavy editing isn’t anything to flip out about, but it made the final product all the better.


The Blu-ray edition also comes with a short gag reel, a 12-minute making-of featurette that actually features more interviews than clips from the film, and a spoof video where a reporter interviews the alien from the film as if he was a real actor. There’s also a theatrical trailer and a two-minute video asking the cast and crew how they would handle an alien invasion.


For how poorly the film did at the box office, it’s surprising to see this number of special features and this much quality within the bonus content. I don’t want to say The Watch wildly surpassed my expectations, but it repeatedly proved itself better than its lowly reputation. If only it was as easy to surpass the high bar.

Rating:

Extras rating:

Ben Travers is an awards season analyst and prognosticator with a devout interest in all things film & TV. Mr. Travers lives in Los Angeles as an experienced writer and filmmaker with an extensive portfolio of coverage, including thorough reporting on the Academy Awards, weekly box office reports, and more reviews written than will ever be read. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa with degrees in both journalism and cinema.


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