Aliens have arrived on Earth and they’re stripping the skin off unsuspecting citizens of Glenview, Ohio and hatching a master plan to destroy the planet. As a result, Evan (Ben Stiller), a socially awkward manager at a local Costco, is inspired to start a neighborhood watch program when his nighttime security guard is skinned alive. These are the the series of events that spawn… The Watch, a new R-rated comedy with continuous laughs throughout and a satisfying introduction, for me at least, to the very funny Richard Ayoade.
There is little that is technically “new” that is brought to the table in The Watch, which was originally scripted by Jared Stern (writer of the awful Mr. Popper’s Penguins) and then, presumably, punched up and given its R-rated content by Superbad scripters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. But as a 98-minute piece of comedy entertainment it really works.
Playing the lead characters, and making up the neighborhood watch group at the center of the story, are Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and the aforementioned Ayoade. Stiller, Vaughn and Hill are their usual selves. Stiller a bit neurotic; Vaughn the fast talking loudmouth; and Hill a bit of a low-talking creeper. All three play to their strengths and never try too hard to sell the comedy. The sweetener in this mixture, however, is Ayoade with whom I was 100% unacquainted before seeing this film.
Ayoade has been big overseas for some time and in 2010 his comedy Submarine was a hit in Toronto and eventually made waves stateside in 2011. I can see the appeal. Ayoade has a spectacular delivery. A somewhat nasally English accent and less than flamboyant mannerisms make every line delivery land right on point. Here he plays what is best described as an innocent young teen, just entering into puberty in a man’s body and he nails it with an innocent grin and not-so-innocent dialogue.
Additional work is put in by Will Forte as an asshole small town cop (he’s probably the film’s weakest point) and Billy Crudup as a creepy next door neighbor as aliens run amok and, a variety of special effects are on display with Guillermo del Toro’s go-to rubber suit man, Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth), slipping on the latex once again as the film’s hero alien.
Directed by Akiva Schaffer, one-third of the “Saturday Night Live” crew known as The Lonely Island, The Watch plays a little like a collection of the group’s much-loved “Digital Shorts”. While not necessarily as innovative, the strength of The Watch is continued laughter with very few lulls in entertainment. I also found a personal joy in the soundtrack’s use of several old school N.W.A. and Eazy-E songs, bringing back memories of listening to the same tracks with friends of mine back in junior high and high school.
Many will probably ding The Watch for its lack of inventiveness, comparing it to the likes of Attack the Block or even Ghostbusters, or perhaps its anatomy jokes, which I, surprisingly, found quite funny. No matter. If anything, I’m happy to have discovered Richard Ayoade as I’ve already started catching up on episodes of the UK comedy series “The IT Crowd” in which he starred with the equally comical Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids, The Sapphires).
The Watch may not be overly innovative, but it does have the right ingredients and it utilizes the strengths of all involved. I’d gladly watch it again.