Friday, August 24, 2012

The Watch


A neighbourhood watch group concept is probably nothing new to the audience in Singapore, given that this scheme has some history going back into the 70s, in what would be a subset of neighbourliness, helping one another in the same block or community maintain some law and order. But of course if a comedic story is to be told based on this premise, there will be no lack of material drawn from experience in the patrols done, or even from within the group of diverse people coming together to achieve some common objectives related to safety and security.

Ben Stiller reunites with Vince Vaughn since their days in Dodgeball, and you can't help but feel that their characters have been set up to reflect a very obvious rivalry. Stiller plays Evan, the neighbourhood's most connected man with his founding of various clubs from running to Spanish classes, even volunteering for a small political office, that ensures his appeal across all spectra of the community, and in doing so, trying real hard to boost his popularity and perhaps ego. There's some truth to this especially when he feels to be of a lesser man, and needs his networks up in order to feel complete. But when a colleague dies so horribly in his supermarket, and the police is quite the inept force, he starts yet another club to address his pain and fear - the Neighborhood Watch, NW.

So enter the motley crew of only three, with Vaughn playing the paranoid Bob, a paranoid, over-protective father of teenage daughter Chelsea (Erin Moriarty), Franklin (Jonah Hill) a man-child who got rejected by the police force, and Englishman Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), who is in it just so as to provide a glimmer of hope that his wildest fantasies involving Asian housewives. All of them seem to have emotional issues, with maturity way lower than their ages, so that's automatic avenue for lot's of comedy right?

Well, that was the plan anyway. Director Akiva Schaffer may have a series of SNL skits under his belt, but when extrapolated into a feature film, the story by Jared Stem, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg seemed to have forgotten to put the comedy into the film. It's more of a science fiction drama by the time that the aliens make their appearance on screen, and even then their designs look like cheap knock off rejects from Alien. It's serious in tone and comedy becomes nothing but an after-thought, unless you think of Vaughn's constant trash-talking as humour - even that became boring after a while, and definitely looked very forced, as if he had to desperately dig at everything just to save the film. The best bits of comedy can all be found in the trailer, so what's left are the usual rote expectations from a team of misfits movie that deals with their team dynamics, arguments, and eventual get together to show the world, or community in this case, just what they're capable of.

To think of it as Attack The Block starring older men, with less action sequences, would probably be quite apt, but even then it lacked the novelty, and the thrills, that Attack The Block had brought to the table. There are some nice touches here of course, such as the how the father-daughter relationship between Bob and Chelsea panned out, and the off key, heart to heart talk between Bob and Evan regarding the latter's condition. And how about the constant under-mining of an authoritative figure being a running thread in the film, which plays on the questioning of authority who don't make sense - quite an appeal here - and on the flip side, having the not so capable leading a bunch of free spirited volunteers spells a recipe for disaster.

But everything else was rather mediocre. One would have thought that by banding a group of comedians together would automatically mean a riot of good time should they have collectively gelled their chemistry and tickle those funny bones big time, coupled with some surprises at the end. However The Watch is just that, standing around using eye power only, with little output.

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