THE WATCH – Blu-ray review

Few films have successfully mined the territory of high concept special effects comedy since the genre-shaping release of “Ghostbusters” in 1984. That film’s singular blend of eye-popping effects, deft humor, and gargantuan box office has proven an irresistible lure for replication, and the filmic roadside is littered with the desiccated husks of failed attempts and castaway sequels following that siren call. “The Watch” is another dusty carapace in this growing ignoble museum.

Ben Stiller stars as Evan Trautwig, a Costco store manager and community busybody who forms a neighborhood watch group in his community after the mysterious murder of one of his employees. Neighbors Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade join him, each with their own personal agenda and differentiating quirks. But what starts as a well-meaning civic exercise and manly bonding adventure becomes something much more, as Evan and his group find themselves the only defense against an alien invasion centered on their small town.

Given the level of talent involved, it is impossible to view “The Watch” as anything but a disappointment (though the presence of producer and middle-brow schlockmeister Shawn Levy could have been a clue to the wise). Director Akiva Schaffer is part of the Lonely Island trio and directed the overlooked “Hot Rod.” Two of the three writers, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, scripted the fresh and funny “Superbad.” Stiller, Vaughn, and Hill are all tested screen comics, doing the heavy lifting of weak screenplays with their box-office proven schticks.

And maybe that’s the problem. Under the shiny, boomy special-effects wrapper, the schtick is still the same.

There are moments where “The Watch” seems poised to go off in any number of creative or unpredictable directions, but inevitably, the creators settle back in the tried-and-true groove. Stiller is once again playing the uptight anal retentive, saddled with delusions of his own adequacy and caught up in a situation beyond his control. Seeing him yet again in these circumstances seems as tired and inevitable as a Lindsay Lohan arrest report. I know this has been his bread and butter since “Meet The Parents” but man oh man is it a dead end here. Is Stiller now officially trapped by this persona he’s created? Is he forced to return to it in film after film because of some dark, cabalistic deal sworn to beneath an L.A. River overpass on a moonless night?

Despite another layer of over-familiarity, Vaughn still manages to generate some energy with his slick hipster jive routine, and Jonah Hill brings an engaging doofus-lout quality to his role as a dim-witted police academy reject. But that energy is squandered in the cheap byways of tired dick jokes, and not one or two, but three tedious subplots (involving a creepy neighbor, Vaughn’s relationship with his daughter, and Stiller’s with his wife) that strike all the expected notes except the funny ones. And I’ve got no problem with low-brow comedy, but here the ratio of vulgar-funny to just-plain-vulgar is frustratingly low and scattershot.

Of the four main stars, only Ayoade (of the British TV series “The IT Crowd”) is relatively unknown to American audiences. Not surprising then he gets the short-end of screen time. But his quirky deadpan delivery and timing is criminally underutilized, and the revelation about his character’s true purpose in the group paints him into a corner, where he plays straight man to the strained subplots and the last reel antics of action movie cliché. Like the movie as a whole, what a shame.

Video:
“The Watch” Blu-ray is presented in Widescreen 2.35:1 ratio on a 50GB dual layer disc. Along with the disc one Blu-ray disc, there is a second disc with a DVD copy in Widescreen 2.35:1 ratio, a digital copy, and Ultraviolet streaming access. The Blu-ray disc looks great, with fine definition and light/shadow contrast.

Audio:
The Blu-ray audio track is DTS-HS Master Audio 5.1, with Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, an English descriptive track in 5.1 for the hearing impaired, and English and Spanish subtitles. On the DVD copy, the audio tracks are English Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish and French Surround Dolby Digital 2.0, and English and Spanish subtitles. The dialogue sounds good, and the explosions and special effects sound even better. Unfortunately, high-quality digital audio does not make the dick jokes any funnier.

Extras:

  • a lengthy set of deleted scenes and extended versions
  • a forgettable gag reel
  • alternate takes of Jonah Hill’s character improvisations, none of which are any improvement on what is in the movie
  • “Watchmakers”: a standard issue making-of with interviews that at least manage to avoid the usual self-congratulatory smoke-blowing
  • “Alien Invasions and You”: a pointless interview question with the cast about what they would do in case of a real alien invasion
  • “Casting the Alien”: a comedic ‘interview’ with the alien actor who played the role in the movie
  • theatrical trailer

Parting thoughts:
“The Watch” wastes a good cast on a weak script and stridently unimaginative direction, and loses its way in thickets of inane subplots and barrel-scraping vulgarity.

Reply