Film review: 'The Watch' is 'funny by accident'

July 30, 2012|By BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • This film image released by 20th Century Fox shows, from left, Jonah Hill, Ben Stiller, Richard Ayoade and Vince Vaughn in a scene from "The Watch."
AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Melinda Sue Gordon

"Funny by accident."

 That's a phrase you'll see if you read enough reviews of bad comedies. As in, "With this much talent in the cast, you'd think that someone would be funny by accident."

You always hear it as a hypothetical, don't you? You don't read many reviews that actually say a comedy is "funny by accident." Maybe somebody will say that a cheesy sci-fi or horror movie is "funny by accident," but not a comedy.  After all, if a comedy is funny, you assume it was meant to be funny. 

"The Watch" is a comedy that I believe is "funny by accident." Clearly a lot of thought went into gags that aren't funny, yet the film has a surprising number of funny gags that I suspect were thrown in without a lot of thought.

"The Watch" stars Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade as a Neighborhood Watch group in the suburbs.

Stiller forms the group after a night watchman at Costco is murdered (shame, the watchman has a fun little role that gets the movie off to a good start).

Stiller, the self-declared leader, is a well-meaning dork. Vaughn is a party boy, Hill is a psychopath, Ayoade is a wild-card foreigner. The film knows exactly what it wants to do with Stiller and Vaughn, because they've played these types of characters so many times before. Unfortunately, it also means that we're sick of them. The relatively unfamiliar Ayoade is a welcome presence, but it's Hill's powder keg who steals the show. He's so much funnier than the other three that his performance represents an inconsistency, an accident if you will.

The Neighborhood Watch is predictably inept at stopping criminals, partly because nobody in the group other than Stiller takes the job seriously and partly because nobody in the community takes the group seriously. They squabble with each other and deal with obnoxious people including a downright grating cop (Will Forte). These early scenes aren't terribly funny. They get involved in a plot with evil invading aliens, which is funnier as they cluelessly fool around with an alien weapon and a corpse. Then they do battle with the aliens, who have a terribly funny weakness.

Again, I think the idea to give the aliens this weakness was somehow an accident because if the filmmakers had thought it out, more of the film would have been about exploiting it. It's the type of gag you could watch for hours.

There's a lot of sexual humor in the film, which is admittedly both funny and deliberate. Stiller and Vaughn have good chemistry in a sensitive conversation. It's the one time in the movie that their act doesn't seem tired. Some of Hill's best lines are compliments toward a villain's body. I know I shouldn't laugh at the vulgar dialogue, but I do anyway. My favorite sequence is a misunderstanding between Stiller and his neighbor that leads to an underground party. Guests at the party include comedy trio The Lonely Island (one of their members, Akiva Schaffer, directed the movie), and the film's most shocking gag comes at their hands.

The bad news is that Ben Stiller and especially Vince Vaughn are sleepwalking through "The Watch." Also, I won't go so far as to say that a lot of the humor falls flat, but the better gags certainly could have used more development. Frankly the film could have used some better lighting too. The good news is that you've got the Hill performance, a handful of touching serious scenes, and a better brand of crude humor than you'll find in "Ted". I guess my point is that a comedy that's "funny by accident" is better than a comedy that isn't funny at all.

Two and a Half Stars out of Five.

"The Watch" is rated R for some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language, and violent images. Its running time is 100 minutes.

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