★ ★ ★ ★
Starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade. Written by Seth Rogen, Jared Stern and Evan Goldberg. Directed by Akiva Schaffer. Produced by Blondel Aidoo, Monica Levinson, Shawn Levy, Tom McNulty and Billy Rosenberg.
The question I kept asking throughout The Watch is – who is the straight guy? It seems like a trivial question, but after consideration, it's more of an indication of just how undeniably talented the screenwriters are.
It's not exactly news that comedy writers are regularly overlooked in the film industry, hardly (if ever) being given the recognition they deserve and it's a shame because in movies like this it really is the cleverness and dynamic of the writing that holds the movie together and determines whether its accompanying elements will be effective.
Rogen and Goldberg, who also brought us Pineapple Express, show that they never rely on formula or gimmick, but rather put effort into an organic combination of personalities, setting up a script where the traditional straight guy is non-existent and all of the characters are funny in their own right. Stiller leads the cast as Evan, the neurotic Costco worker who's desperately seeking a sense of community, and does what he's best at – throwing fits and being spastic. His character is contrasted by Vaughn, who returns to his old, fast-talking immature ways as Evan's fellow neighborhood watch member and bored family man, Bob. Hill provides balance to their crew as an unstable, military-obsessed teenager named Franklin and proves that he'll be funny in just about any scenario he's thrown into, regardless of how seasoned his co-stars are. And newcomer Richard Ayoade is refreshing as a character we haven't really seen before, yet holds his own as Jamarcus, a foreign guy trying to fit in and fully experience American culture.
This band of misfits come together to form the neighborhood watch after the gruesome murder of Evan's Costco co-worker and friend. Once the group finds common ground and begins their rounds, they garner one laugh after the other, treating their duties in an overly serious manner, even roughing up some young kids for egging and abusing their 'authority' to stalk Bob's party-girl teenage daughter. These parts are funny enough, but the real uniqueness and punch of the movie doesn't kick in until they discover they're dealing with extraterrestrials. It's like a switch is flipped and what was previously headed in the direction of typical buddy comedy suddenly turns into an action-packed, special effects driven comedy/ thriller, much like Pineapple Express. And surprisingly enough, it works.
We're used to seeing astronauts and other trained professionals deal with aliens in movies, but now we get to see how regular guys handle it and the situation makes for some great laughs. In one scene, they pose for the camera with the creature's dead carcass and take pleasure in dressing it up and treating it like the passed out guest at a house party. Driven by its irreverent humor and satirical take on the community program, it's near impossible for this movie to evade all controversy, but it does, side-stepping any relation to the recent Trayvon Martin case and being generally harmless while succeeding in its earnest motive to make people laugh.
Contrary to what tends to happen with a cast of established comedians, the leads never attempt to hog the spotlight or overshadow one another because they each have their own niche role to fill and the script prevents them from doing so. Peppered with eccentric side performances from Will Forte as a lazy police officer and Billy Crudup (yes, he's in a comedy) as Evan's creepy touchy-feely neighbor, The Watch never runs the risk of becoming boring or losing our attention, but it does run the risk of being overwhelming at times which is nothing out of the ordinary for this genre.