We may be entering an era of "pretty good" adult comedies. A silver age, if you will.
In the year 2012 alone, "Ted" was wickedly funny, "MIB 3" exceeded expectations, "21 Jump Street" showed off how to properly adapt nostalgia and "This Means War" had an admirable confidence. Some of it might be attributed to the rise of the comic book franchise and the reasonable need to counter-program against the monolithic commercial power of men in tights.
A portion of the phenomenon is likely due to the full-on embrace of the R-rated, and certainly credence must also be given to the amount of actors willing to crossover and tackle comedy, even given past dramatic success. Jonah Hill is a prime example -- he's an Oscar-nominated actor for his work in "Moneyball," but he's also willing to mix it up with Ben Stiller and company here in "The Watch."
The movie begins in the idyllic setting of Glenview, OH. Evan (Ben Stiller) is a busybody senior manager at Costco, having risen from the depths of junior manager over the course of a decade. Stiller has played a similar character in "Tower Heist" (yikes, do not watch) and in "The Fockers" series as well. Evan starts various local clubs, such as his running group; he's uber-socially conscious, pretty much living that suburban dream. He's married and his wife wants children.
Sure, this is a complete caricature, but "The Watch" is fairly upfront about keeping comedy the primary goal. Minimal character development will be attempted, though some will be, all in accordance with the 1985 Supreme Court ruling that stated we must have characters to "root" for, even in a clearly preposterous comedy about supernatural occurrences. "The Watch" will abide by that rule, but luckily for not more than about 25 percent of the film.
To get us rolling, a brutal murder transpires down at the Costco. Evan decides this aggression will not stand, and that it's time to form a neighborhood watch. As this is a movie, he's joined by Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade. Now, if you're like everyone else, you probably read that list and said "Yep, know him, and who?" Indeed, Richard Ayoade is a newcomer to the "buddy comedy" genre, but he's admirably excellent, a cross between Jemaine Clement and a Muppet. Comedy gold, that one, and he's also the writer/director behind the critically acclaimed "Submarine." Ayoade consistently scores with his deadpan delivery, and he fits right in with Stiller, Hill and Vaughn in terms of comedy reach. A very nice coup of casting, that.
Credit must also be doled out to Lonely Island alumnus Akiva Schaffer, who handles the directorial duties for "The Watch." This is his second feature film, after "Hot Rod," and while this isn't nearly as out there as his first film, it delivers steady comedy goodness.
What are the methods of its madness? A litany of inappropriate F-bombs light the way towards laughs, and the chemistry between the four leads is apparent and welcome. They constantly riff off each other, and the whole enterprise has the feel of sketch comedy, though it's likely they started with a skeleton script and allowed the gents to segue into improvisation after nailing a few good takes. Interestingly enough, Seth Rogen has a writing credit on "The Watch," and you'll definitely detect notes of "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express" throughout the brisk 98-minute running time.
Should you watch "The Watch"? Well, it's not nearly as bad as the premise would suggest, and there are 20 to 25 laughs to be had here. They aren't of the huge variety, but they are consistent, akin to a boxer with a solid jab... though missing that knockout punch. The effects were handled through a mix of practical and CGI, and though the film never reaches the lunacy of "Mars Attacks!" there are undertones of that film embedded in here too. Vintage old-school gangster rap is continually woven into the film, fully exposing the silliness of "suburban" toughness.
Would I take this in again after a nice Sunday brunch, or as part of a Vince Vaughn movie marathon? Certainly. You're in the hands of trained professionals here, and though it's never transformational, it's mostly amusing. Which counts!