Like a stereotypical, snobby critic, I wanted to dislike Akiva Schaffer’s The Watch. However, I grudgingly admit it was better than expected. So, what made it exceed my low expectations? Oddly enough, Ben Stiller as Evan Trautwig is really what moves the story along.

Although the movie is a little too stupid at times, and too much of a stereotypical “bro” comedy (or whatever disgusting term one wishes to use), I would say Stiller’s performance kept the whole thing a little grounded. Evan isn’t quite as one-dimensional as one might expect, and it seems like Ben Stiller didn’t phone in the performance, which helps in a movie environment that’s oversaturated with Ben Stiller, and maybe even “Ben Stiller-ism.”

I also like that, to some degree, this dumb-ass comedy even deals with real issues. Evan convinces some people from his neighborhood to join his ragtag “watch” organization after his store’s security guard (Joseph A. Nunez) gets murdered. Basically, Evan is instantly at odds with these people, who initially don’t take their roles seriously, threatening to turn the whole operation into a joke.

Yes, Evan ends up caving and behaving like them before long, but reality sort of snaps them out of their stupor in some freaky ways, and their self-assumed, half-assed responsibility transforms into a much bigger problem than expected. I should mention that it also stars Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie DeWitt, Erin Moriarty, and R. Lee Ermey.

Genre Confusion

When I first started watching The Watch, I wasn’t quite sure I could write about it for any horror sites. Google and IMDb seemed to suggest it was just a sci-fi comedy. Basically, this ends up being a sci-fi horror monster movie comedy hybrid, so I feel okay calling it something like that. Yes, it ends up being more comedy than horror, but it still counts. In my opinion, Wikipedia gets it right when they define a horror film as “one that seeks to elicit fear in its audience for entertainment purposes.”

In fact, this is all largely a matter of opinion. So if you don’t consider this a horror film because it’s not scary, that’s fine and good, but Gremlins isn’t particularly scary, either. Though I wouldn’t call it a classic, The Watch has some of the madcap vibes you’ll find in plenty of other films branded horror. So it is a comedy-sci-fi horror film, in that order — albeit never on par with the likes of Scream, The Sixth Sense, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. On the bright side, the effects are pretty good in this movie, despite often being CG.

Where the Humor Works

There are plenty of immature moments in The Watch, and I definitely laughed at some of them. Still, I think the best humor in The Watch involves Evan trying to create a serious neighborhood organization while the others just goof around. To anyone who’s ever tried putting something together among incompetents, this should be relatable. They basically make the organization look pathetic.

Once everyone is in costume and gathered, though, it’s obvious that there’s some strange, malevolent presence in their neighborhood, and the four men begin experiencing unusual events. Who is the real killer? Some notorious murderer? One of their neighbors? Will they have the legal authority to submit anyone to an interrogation? You probably won’t ask these questions because this movie is so ridiculous, but you know…they’re hinted at.

Where the Humor Doesn’t Work As Well

Frankly, this is a move where — predictably — some of the characters act too stupidly at times. Not only can that be a problem with the film itself, but it also pairs too well with stereotypes about a Ben Stiller-esque movie. Sure, it never gets as mind-numbingly cringeworthy as A Night at the Museum (which I wish I had watched on a bet, to have won some money), but The Watch goes a little too far in some dumb-ass directions for my liking.

I still laughed at some of the dumb stuff, though, and maybe it’s because I was just in the mood to accept it. Hey, sometimes that’s all it takes! Also, this was the final film of R. Lee Ermey. If you’re a fan of his work, you might feel obligated to watch this for that reason alone.

What are your thoughts on The Watch? Let us know in the comments!

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Wade Wanio is an author.

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