Although most of the discussion regarding The Watch has focused on the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the title change—originally “Neighborhood Watch“ until George Zimmerman made being a neighborhood watch captain less funny—the movie has endured another unfortunate circumstance which seems to have gone unrecognized: Attack the Block beat it into theatres by a year, and it did a much better of job of telling what is essentially the same story.
Had it not been for Attack the Block, the things that work in The Watch—and there are a few of them—would probably seem much more impressive. But in the wake of a near perfect alien invasion comedy, a flawed but occasionally amusing alien invasion comedy seems a bit redundant.
For at least the 10th time in his career, Ben Stiller plays an uptight control freak whose humourlessness is presented as a source of humour. He plays the manager of a local Costco who, after one of his employees is skinned alive by an unknown predatory creature, starts a neighborhood watch organization. Only three other people show up to the initial meeting, a charismatic fast-talker played by Vince Vaughn (a role which he’s played even more often than Stiller has played uptight control freaks), a Zimmerman-esque wannabe cop (a very funny Jonah Hill, who unlike Vaughn and Stiller, seems to expand his range a bit more with each new role), and a mysterious British dandy played by Richard Ayoade (who should become better known in North America after his scene-stealing performance here). Soon they discover that the mysterious predatory creature is not of earthly origin, and that it didn’t arrive here on its own.
Even with Stiller and Vaughn staying firmly within their comfort zones, the cast is very strong, and there are more than a few laugh-out-loud moments scattered throughout. Usually these moments have a spontaneous, improvised feel and tend to not be related to the story in any way at all whatsoever. It’s the scenes that are related to the story that are the problem. Even if you haven’t seen Attack the Block, the story will seem very, very familiar. For example, the Stiller and Vaughn characters go through the typical break-up/apologize/get back together again scenario that’s typical of the buddy comedy. They also have to blow up an alien antennae before it sends a signal back to the alien home planet—a plot device that was most recently used in Transformers 3 and The Avengers. Plot similarities to Ghostbusters and Men in Black also abound.
Perhaps one day someone will make a 20-minute-long YouTube video that compiles the best scenes from The Watch. That video would be worth watching. Until then, just rent Attack the Block again.