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The Watch Review: 20 Years Later, and Ben Stiller Still Doesn't Understand the Role of a Straight Man

By Dustin Rowles | Film Reviews | July 27, 2012 | Comments ()


Ben_Stiller_Jonah_Hill.jpeg

You know that idiomatic scene present in every action-comedy featuring lame suburban white men, Seth Rogen, or Danny McBride? The faux-bad ass slo-mo sequence set to gangster rap that features doughy Caucasians strutting like they own the fucking place? Used sparingly, it can be effective, and perhaps never more so than the printer sequence in Office Space. Unfortunately, it's apparently the only technique that Akiva Schaffer (Hot Rod) knows: 30 percent of The Watch is that very scene played out in different suburban settings. It's also fairly representative of the recycled ideas and tropes mashed up into The Watch, what I can only assume was once a clever suburban satire defanged and mashed by studio executives into a bland paste of dick jokes and faux bluster. Also, aliens.

It's not that The Watch isn't without its occasional moments. I can still get jazzed when Vince Vaughn goes on one of his rat-a-tat tears, and it almost doesn't matter what he's saying when he's in a rhythm. Here, he plays Bob, an overprotective Dad with the sense of fun of an aged frat boy. He plays brilliantly off of Jonah Hill's Frank, a psycho Full Metal Jacket wannabe with a switch blade in his pocket and a hidden stash of weaponry under his mattress in the house he shares with his mom.

Unfortunately, whatever brief swatches of life that the Vaughn and Hill interplay bring to the The Watch are almost immediately stamped out by the wormhole where comedy goes to die: Ben Stiller. Stiller plays the lead in The Watch, a Type-A control freak with zero sense of humor and a disproportionate reaction to everything around him. In other words, he plays the same Ben Stiller character he's been playing in studio comedies for two decades. It's not that the character couldn't have worked, and in a script written by Seth Rogen and his usual writing partner Evan Goldberg (along with a studio hack, Jared Stern (Mr. Popper's Penguins)), you have to imagine it was written with someone else in mind (In fact, Will Ferrell had originally been cast). Ben Stiller is a bottomless pit of suck. He has no real talent for the straight man. Stiller doesn't seem to understand that the role is the most difficult one in comedy, and that a straight man actually needs to bring something to the table other than autistic idiosyncrasies. Jason Bateman, for instance, understands the straight man: It's more than being the buzzkill. You have to bring your own wisecracks, you have to create humor and not just react to it. Stiller kills it; he's like a death force that sucks the life out of comedy.

It doesn't the help, of course, that suburban comedy and alien invasion is not the most natural of genre mash-ups. The characters in The Watch, however, don't really treat aliens as a bigger threat than typical mall thugs, and that disconnect helps to crater the whole messy endeavor. The film centers on Evan, a Costco manager in a quiet suburban Ohio town. His night guard is killed under mysterious circumstances, so Evan rounds up a neighborhood watch group tasked with "getting to the bottom of things." That group includes Bob, Frank and Jamarcus (a criminally wasted Richard Ayoade), who stumble upon an alien invasion and seek to stamp it out, all the while dealing with Bob's party-girl daughter, a creepy neighbor (Billy Crudup), and Evan's sterility. Strangely, the movie deals with all four issues with an equal amount of urgency.

The whole movie feels a bit like the suburban cousin to the already underwhelming Paul. In fact, it's a configuration of the same characters only instead of a RV road trip with some doobies, The Watch is content to stay in Ohio with cans of Budweiser. Ultimately, the two movies travel the same buddy-movie terrain. But Paul had Jason Bateman, The Watch has Ben Stiller and, mediocre storyline aside, that makes all the difference in the world.



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Comments Are Welcome, Douches Are Not


  • So you're saying just go watch Attack the Block again? Can do.

  • kiniki

    Considering that Ben Stiller has worked alongside one of the best straight men in the business IMHO, De Niro, you'd have hoped he'd pick up a few things

  • The Bone

    I went and saw The Watch this weekend.

    I found that I enjoyed the gleeful vulgarity issuing forth from Jonah Hill and Vince Vaughn, and my weakness in movies is definitely vulgar humor.

    I generally despise most Ben Stiller movies, and I would have loved to see someone else in the role, but he wasn't enough to make me hate the movie overall. Richard Ayoade quirky role and Billy Crudup as the creep were fun as well.

    I'd rate The Watch as "could have waited for Netflix, but not bad enough to make me regret seeing it"

  • The Bone

    Oh and it's nice to see that Vince Vaughn has lost some weight.

  • P

    The first moment I saw the trailer for this, I thought "ohmigod...three of the unfunniest, most one-note guys together in one movie?!". Seriously, Stiller, Vaughn and Hill play THE SAME CHARACTER in every movie they're in. And it's not funny anymore (in Stiller's case, it never was). But how many more fast-talking, breezy, devil-may-care-isms can we see from Vaughn at this point? It's been done to death. And Jonah Hill's schtick has already grown old and tired. Every review I've read of "The Watch" confirms my initial reaction when I saw the trailer months ago. Sometimes you just know...

  • Clancys_Daddy

    The problem isn't that he doesn't understand the role of the straight man. The problem is that he doesn't know what funny is, and he isn't.

  • Serpentlord

    I hate Ben Stiller as much as the next poor bastard who suffered through so much as a glimpse of the countless terrible films he's made. Considering I've seen Night at the Museum, The Heartbreak Kid, and The Watch, I probably hate him more than average.

    But even I'll admit he works as a douchebag. The Madagascar movies suck, but Ben Stiller is exponentially better in those than when he's a straight man in an objectively better movie.

    I don't hate Ben Stiller just because he's a glorified pimp like Adam Sandler, Stiller pimps far fewer talentless compadre's than even Kevin Smith, who actually makes good movies. I hate him because he mostly lacks the decency to play the character he can even accidentally be funny in. Even Jack Black and Adam Sandler surpass Stiller in that area.

  • Joan Rivers was right--Stiller is lucky he's got 'rents in the biz.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I can't believe you people let Dustin denigrate Paul, while still refusing to acknowledge that Zoolander is a steaming pile of shite.

  • bel

    a steaming pile of really really goodlooking funny shite.

  • Serpentlord

    Ben Stiller has a worse movie batting average than Adam Sandler. Sure, the average Stiller film is more tolerable than the average Sandler film, but Ben Stiller has been funny in just one movie (Dodgeball) and lucky enough to worm into actual scripts while Sandler sees if he can shoehorn in even more product placement than his last film had, ("Advertising executive... fuckin' YES!")

    Even by the standards of Sandler's anti-comedy and brand-shilling The Watch is bad. There were ten different product placement brands in the first five minutes of the movie, and zero jokes outside of Hangover 2-esque riffings, punctuated by Ben fucking Stiller finding new ways to suck joy out of my brain.

    I didn't even bother to stay after the film entered its third hour, and if it weren't for the insanely hot ticket receptionist, I would've demanded money back. Certainly not the worst movie I've ever seen in theaters, and with Bruno, Delta Farce, Kangaroo Jack, Splice, and Balls of Fury on that list, The Watch isn't even top 5. But I cannot recommend against a movie this whorish enough.

    Ben Stiller better get a mean case of the runs on the Mexican vacation this film buys.

  • John

    When Ben Stiller was on Extras, playing Ben Stiller, I don't think it was "acting" because I've never seen him "act" like that. He played an asshole and it was too perfect. Creepy perfect. Then there's "Curb your Enthusiasm" where he played himself as a dick. Seriously, he played himself AS A DICK.
    In reality, I think it's the OJ situation. He puts himself into situations were he can let the truth come out.
    He is not funny.

  • wicked.whisper

    watched Swingers the other day....been a while....so sad remembering how awesome Vince Vaughn once was before the man that ate vince vaughn started appearing in crap.

  • Jeremy F

    Right all around - you said everything I've said about this bland, boring mess. Night at the Museum, Meet the Parents, Tower Feist... bleh.

    'The Watch' isn’t funny enough to be a comedy, isn’t exciting enough to be an action movie, and there isn’t enough of a story to really be a movie.

  • Tinkerville

    Oh, Richard Ayoade. You know I"ll follow you anywhere. Why do you want to hurt me?

  • juicyjui

    I have a soft spot for Ben Stiller because of Zoolander. But he really needs to stop.

  • BarbadoSlim

    The biggest beef I have with that standard Ben Stiller movie persona, is how uncomfortable it makes me feel. It isn't fun to watch anybody like that. yet he still keeps putting that performance forward.

    hehehe, "biggest beef"

  • Alyson McManus

    Paul is amazing. You leave Paul alone. Nick Frost and Simon Pegg are geniuses. they should have cast Richard Ayeonde in Paul. FUck the Watch. Also Ben Stiller bores me

  • Basement Boy

    When I saw the first photo of Stiller, Vaughn, Hill and... Ayoade(!?), it was an immediate case of "One Of These Things IS Not Like The Others!" Moss is the *only* reason I'd pay to see this one... sad, but not remotely surprised, to hear he's "criminally wasted".

  • idiosynchronic


    The whole movie feels a bit like the suburban cousin to the already underwhelming Paul.

    Oh, you don't get to dis Paul. Take it back, or you'll regret it.

  • Forbiddendonut

    I think it's probably because I have seen very, very few Ben Stiller movies, but I don't really hate him. I've always enjoyed "Flirting With Disaster" and I love "Mystery Men." And his short-lived "Ben Stiller Show" was really good.

    Other than that first "Fockers" movie (which sucked) and "Something About Mary" (which I really didn't like all that much either), I don't think I've seen any other films where Stiller was anything more than a bit part.

  • avocadolime

    ZOOLANDER.

  • fribbley

    I LOVE ZOOLANDER

  • Fredo

    Stiller, Vaughn and Hill all feel like the great "other guy": the person working off the lead/straight man. It seems like being the guy neuters them, comically-speaking.

  • lowercase_ryan

    Has it really been two decades? Jesus.

  • TheOriginalMRod

    one
    trick
    pony.

  • annoyed

    Richard Ayoade deserves better than this garbage...

  • fcanaj

    god yes, he was the ONLY redeeming actor in this and I also got the feeling Vaughn improved a lot of his stuff because it SUCKED major ass. He talks to much and its stupid.

  • Socrates_Johnson

    Dustin Rowels' next pull quote?

    "Stiller kills it"

  • "Ben Stiller is a bottomless pit of suck."

    Finally, someone said it.

  • Rubble44

    Been saying that for a long time....Jerry Stiller must be rolling over in his grave knowing his son has taken a king sized dump on the family name.

    Also...fuck Jonah Hill.

  • juicyjui

    Jerry Stiller is still alive.

    But Ben Stiller still sucks

  • I think he knew that, but is making a point.

  • mswas


    The whole movie feels a bit like the suburban cousin to the already underwhelming Paul.

    How about a suburban cousin to the totally rockin' Attack the Block?

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