The Watch (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Watch (2012)

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It's 2012 and the punchline is still violence. Luckily, today's experiment in seeing how much gun play we can mix with a character-driven comedy also contains more male ejaculate than any three randomly selected American Pie films. Maybe even four.

Did I say luckily? Well, fuck. No, no. It's been a while since I've watched a movie that so completely and thoroughly piddles its premise down its leg. Setting itself up as a satire of the middle class white suburbanites, the movie runs, terrified, back into pathetic admiration, saying that doing isn't as admirable as drinking and having a good time and killing indiscriminately. Hoorah, hoorah.

Okay, ahead of myself again. The Watch stars a rogue's gallery of comedic actors, starting with the leads, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade. In case you were wondering, Stiller directed Tropic Thunder and Ayoade directed CSTM fav Submarine, which makes both's appearances in this film feel sadder, like listening to a dirge of the painful escape of all good from the world.

Green goo, which, for a plot point, comes across something the director's 10-year-old may have tossed out there. But that's underestimating the director's kid and overestimating the director.

The plot has Stiller's character living in small town Ohio and working as the manager of a CostCo (or should I say CostCo(TM)), which is an idyllic existence because CostCo is such a gosh darned great place all the time. When one of his employees, Antonio (Joe Nunez), is found skinned alive one morning, Stiller decides to organize a neighborhood watch. Unfortunately, while he has the noble goal of hunting down a murderer (and, as it is soon revealed, space aliens) with the typical aplomb of a vigilante wronged, the group he assembled are various levels of slackers and psychopaths.

On the psychopath side is Hill, who is a gun nut that failed out all of his attempts to enter the police academy. His character arc is that, eventually, the police (represented by a much-too-good-for-this Bill Hader) realize that he's a badass and that he should be given a badge. His ability to posture and exorcise his violent urges prove him to be the kind of protector that small time America needs.

Meanwhile, you know someone fucked up down the line when they picked Vince Vaughn to play a happy-go-lucky guy. Vaughn's barely contained loathing and rage are used to bad effect here, making him as a fun guy who isn't dealing well with his daughter's sexual maturity. This is  portrayed with about as much dignity as the memorable Tony Danza vehicle, She's Outta Control, which often focused on the father character as he gazes with alarm (and what may be a little bit of jealousy) as his daughter begins to hook up with an attractive schoolmate. Here it's a boy who likes to buy Magnum sized condoms at CostCo.

This climaxes with some truly despicable unity, but first we must go back to the start and set up what the film seems to want to do. The film is narrated by Stiller, a generic 'nice guy' who brags about the ties to the community he's formed through sheer will-- City Council undersecretary, Senior Center Spanish club leader-- and also the friends he has, including, he breathlessly exclaims, a Korean woman.

Ayoade's character's motivations are, to be blunt, completely at the whims of the scriptwriter, making his character a cypher who swoops into the scene to push everyone to the next plot point.

To further compound Stiller's 'gee whiz' 'small town' idealism, he helps the aforementioned security guard Antonio get his citizenship. There's absolutely no secret subtext here as Antonio's first actions as an American citizen are to 1) get a big ugly tattoo, 2) drink, take pills, and smoke weed on the job, 3) jerk off to Denise Richards, and 4) completely eschew his responsibilities in pursuit of just partying. We get it, America's problems are assimilating people into its culture of indifference. But where is the film going to take this idea?

Well, pretty much fucking nowhere. The further down the rabbit hole we go with the film, the more fucked up it becomes.

Stiller's character is impotent, and his relationship with his wife, Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt), is suffering because he knows this, but won't tell her. When he finally admits that they've been trying to get pregnant for months, even though he's known this whole time that it was impossible, she simply consoles him. No sense of betrayal, just a sweet amount of pity directed at the man who's been fucking with her emotions for a better part of the year.

Hill has the least offensive material to work with, although the film elevates his violent tendencies as being admirable. Good job, movie.

The final twists in the film will leave practically everyone with a bad taste in their mouths, but I don't want to ruin things for those I've enticed into seeing this so far. Spoilers until after the next picture.

Let's start with Vaughn's character, who stands up to his daughter's boytoy Jason (Nicholas Braun) by crashing a party and breaking into a room where she's resisting the boy's attempts at copulation. Vaughn's character, because he stalks his daughter and keeps her completely isolated from from men, is portrayed as the hero for these actions. In fact, the film's climax reveals that Jason was actually one of the enemy alien invaders, and since it turns out the alien's weakness is their genitals, Vaughn gets to rip the dick off of the boy who threatened his own sexual domination over his daughter. I usually hate using all caps in a review, but JESUS CHRIST ICK.

Just to further illustrate that the film's view of women is rather poorly regressive, Abby joins the Neighborhood Watch on their final mission. Her addition is mostly for the effect of allowing her to see her impotent husband overcome it (in a metaphorical way) as he relentlessly murders a bunch of aliens. As soon as someone is injured, she nurses him and is out of the action. Sure, having one more person along to help ensure the safety of humanity's tenure on earth would be nice, but she's a girl, and must nurture.

The worst twist comes from Ayoade's character. His entire arc consists of two strains: Stiller wants a black friend to complete his collection, and Ayoade wants his nuts sucked on by an Asian woman. But, you see, as a British black man in small town America, of course he was secretly a space alien. Whether or not he actually skinned a human to live within his body is quickly glossed over, and he decides to betray his people after he gets his nuts sucked on. So we have one nice, friendly black guy who turns against his people to help save human civilization. No fucking disturbing subtext there.

Hell, the film even hates on homosexuals until they're decoded as bisexuals and holy crap this movie is just fucking messed up, and I have got to wrap this up before I start throwing my laptop around.

The film's climactic moment, after a lengthy fucking gun battle, involves Stiller being forced to destroy the CostCo he runs in order to save the Earth. Don't worry, gentle readers, he vows that another CostCo will arise from its ashes. Because what matters isn't that there's still an alien armada out there, poised for the invasion of earth, but that CostCo will rise again. CostCo.

"Hello, I want jizz, which is a thing women prize. Jizz? Jizz is great."

The Watch clumsily fumbles all of its attempts at satire. It's attempts at being heartwarming-- the Vaughn/daughter plot line and the Stiller/Abby baby attempts-- are, and I want to be really concise, genuinely awful, disturbing drama, and repulsive at their core. Considering the stars involved, it feels like Vaughn, Stiller and Hill wanted to have some fun and really let loose in an 'R' rated comedy. When the final result is something far less than the most recent Adam Sandler movie, perhaps a deeper introspection is called for from anyone sitting in the theater.

The more I think about it, though, the more I'm worried that the satire of Americans at the beginning of the film wasn't meant satirically but rather as a celebration. Have we gone so low that we're only left to take pride in the bad stereotypes others have of us? The Watch certainly thinks so.

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Posted by Danny

Comments (6) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Thanks for taking another bullet for me, Danny. Makes my Total Recall experience seem far less awful by comparison.

  2. yeah…this looks as dumb as you say

  3. YIKES, that’s even worse than I’d expected! I just figured it’d be unfunny; the scene with Stiller/Vaughn continuously shooting that alien had the distinct whiff of forced improv, like Night at the Museum 2 “Don’t touch it.” “I’m going to touch it.” “Don’t do it.” “I’m touching it.” ugh.

    • I think the forced improv feel comes from desperation; I think this is one where they had funny actors and the filmmakers assumed that they could make the film funny simply by being in it.

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