I’d almost forgotten that the last time Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn teamed up was in 2004’s Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, and if you asked me why I like that movie so much and am pretty indifferent on The Watch, I’d be hard-pressed to explain why. Both have very simple premises, feature largely improv performers, and The Watch has the added benefit of Jonah Hill — playing a younger, more broad version of Walter Sobchek.
Then again, Dodgeball had cleverer jokes, Vaughn in the lead (instead of Stiller), and Rip Torn, who trumps pretty much everything in the universe. It also seemed to be having a lot more fun. The Watch, on the other hand, is kind of like the unpopular kid at the playground that’s consigned itself to the tilt-a-whirl: functioning on autopilot and trying to find bits of entertainment when they come. Even the trailer has no qualms revealing the twist of aliens coming to earth, and since there’s not much else after that, for the first half hour or so, we follow Stiller around waiting for the movie to get going.
The script moves through the usual beats, even omitting some, with the pace and lackadaisical attitude of an O’Hare traveler just trying to get to their goddamn plane: Stiller is Evan Trautwig, an over-achieving Ohio suburbanite and Costco Senior Manager who manages a number of local clubs. One his employees is murdered, he forms a neighborhood watch to discover the killer, and it turns out to be aliens. Vaughn is an overprotective father; Hill has already been mentioned; Richard Ayoade (from BBC’s The IT Crowd) is weird; Will Forte is a prickish police officer; and Rosemarie DeWitt is unbelievably sexy as Stiller’s wife.
Fair enough. I don’t mind if a comedy wants to rest on its stars, but none of them, with the exception of Hill, seem like they want to be there. Vaughn and Ayoade have their moments, but Stiller never quite works as the lead. He always plays for over the top, and most of the time it comes off either he’s trying to be funny or is in a different movie entirely. I think he’s at his best when playing a version of himself (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Extras), but even then it’s out there.
Still, it’s not outright bad like last year’s Tower Heist. There’s some funny gags, and it doesn’t run too long, but it’s one petty offender you can let slip by.