Remember how funny many of Saturday Night Live’s Digital Shorts were? Remember the ones that weren’t, such as most of the recurring Laser Cats shorts? Hit or miss, the majority of them had the same director: Akiva Schaffer. As one-third of Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island collective, Schaffer also got a feature film directing gig helming the underperforming but low-cost Hot Rod. Now he’s stepped up to the big leagues directing The Watch, with a hefty studio budget and top-tier stars to match, but his same scrappy “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” ethos is still in full effect. Unfortunately, sketch comedy ad-libbing and big budgets aren’t the most suitable partners, and the end result exposes the uneasy alliance of four actors uncomfortably nabbing a big payday while half-heartedly trolling for laughs.
Then there’s the film’s baggage. A comedy about a group of wimpy neighborhood watch guys sounded like a good idea…until neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman gunned down Trayvon Martin in Florida shortly before the film’s original release date. The studio promptly changed the title from its original Neighborhood Watch, and yet, inexplicably, didn’t seem to change the marketing to shift focus away from the four leads and to the Trojan horse in the plot. See, as it turns out, the film isn’t just about four losers seeking empowerment and friendship through their patrol activities, it’s actually also an alien invasion tale. Maybe I don’t see enough ads and trailers and just never got filled in, but even from the box cover art you’d never guess there was a full-blown alien story lurking beneath those four grimacing community activists. If I was running the marketing, there would have been a big slimy alien front and center to minimize comparison to the unfortunate real life events paralleling the movie’s setup.
The film gets further failing marks for incessant product placement, from the principal setting of a Costco store with all its inherent product wonders to the recurring use of Budweiser beer and Trojan condoms. We get that the studio wanted to share the budget load, but we don’t need to be beat about the head by its product partners. The film ends up playing like one long ad for mass consumer goods and suffers as a result, distracting from the already weak story whenever another product prominently appears onscreen.
That story focuses on Stiller’s sad sack Costco manager character, an earnest guy who joins community groups rather than facing marital discord at home. He has no friends until he forms the watch and recruits the other three guys, who are all more interested in a social outlet than any service to the community. Predictably, they become friends and help each other through personal tribulations until they discover that aliens are among us and go to war to stop them. Each character has their own personal relationship subplot to resolve, none of which amount to anything but a waste of time. The aliens are fairly scary, especially for a comedy film, but also about as one-dimensional as the human stars. There’s nothing of any substance here, with just a smattering of occasional chuckles to pass the time to the completely predictable ending.
Surprisingly, the Blu-ray image quality is spectacular, with no noticeable artifacting and great definition and contrast even in the many dimly-lit nighttime scenes. The soundtrack has some passable thump and immersion during the action scenes. Bonus features are so extensive that they even include a completely ridiculous and unnecessary in-character interview with one of the aliens. Elsewhere, the requisite deleted scenes, gag reel, and alternate takes further show the ad-lib culture Schaffer cultivated but failed to capitalize on, especially in regards to Jonah Hill’s clearly disturbed outsider character. The package also includes a DVD and digital download code.