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The Watch: When stars do bad movies for big money

A neighborhood skater kid (Johnny Pemberton) easily gets the better of his hapless interrogators, Evan (Ben Stiller) and Franklin (Jonah Hill), in a scene from “The Watch.”

Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Melinda Sue Gordon

1 out of 4 stars

The Watch
Written by
Jared Stern, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Directed by
Akiva Schaffer
Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill

In his recent New Yorker profile of Ben Stiller, Tad Friend cited the actor's upcoming film The Watch, then helpfully added: "For Stiller, this kind of work is a day job – albeit one he takes seriously – that allows him to pursue his grander aspirations." Translation: It's a dumb-ass comedy done strictly for a seriously large paycheque. Implication: It follows that any review of said dumb-ass comedy will be done for the same reason, if not, alas, the same paycheque. With that lofty motive in mind, let's follow Little Ben's lead and, pushing the pause button on our own grander aspirations, knuckle down to the appointed task.

The Premise. Four goofs in a sedate Ohio town form a Neighbourhood Watch. There's Stiller the earnest do-gooder and requisite straight man; there's Vince Vaughn the beer-swilling party dude; there's Jonah Hill the failed cop and wannabe horn dog; there's Richard Ayoade the bespectacled Brit with the plummy accent.

The Plot. Oh, there are aliens afoot, and I don't mean that bespectacled Brit with the plummy accent. The aliens mean harm to God-fearing Ohioans. The Watch saddles up, or at least starts ticking. They capture an alien weapon. They vaporize a cow. They capture an alien. They immediately do what everyone does these days with captured aliens or restaurant food – they photograph themselves in its company.

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The Sub-plot. Vince Vaughn has a nubile teenage daughter. Why? Well, it's an established sociological fact that nubile teens in skimpy attire tend to festively congregate with other nubile teens similarly (un)dressed, thereby allowing the movie to take a break from the rigours of alien-hunting to get up on the screen that most precious of commercial commodities – young and attractive flesh.

The Sub-sub-plot. Stiller has a weird neighbour with a secret. Why? So the secret can turn out to be a fondness for group sex and wild orgies. Why? See above.

The Other Sub-sub-plot. Stiller also has a wife. She wants a baby. She's ovulating. Sadly, a recent medical test has confirmed that Ben, in the parlance beloved by moviedom, is "shooting blanks." He confesses. Wife is instantly understanding. Heartwarming moment over, but aliens still afoot, she joins him in the good fight.

The Direction. Huh?

The Dialogue. Ostensibly, this is written by Jared Stern, with a doctoring assist from no less than the team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Don't believe it. Instead, improvisation is definitely The Watch-word, with Vaughn and Hill in particular winging just about every line they speak – most of them filthy, few of them funny. But cut the guys some slack. No doubt, like Stiller, they were distracted by thoughts of their grander aspirations post-paycheque.

The Fate of the Aliens. Can't say. Wouldn't want to spoil your hilarity.

The Peculiarity of the Aliens. Can say. The male brain is located in the organ that rhymes with your humble correspondent's given name. In which case, they should have set their compass for Hollywood, where they would've felt right at home.

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