Phallic jokes — who doesn’t like them?
From couch-friendly affairs like “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and its various copies, to myriad forms of big-and-little screen cinematic offerings of late, jokes involving the male anatomy have proven themselves to be an always welcome guest of the entertainment industry.
Knees to the groin, endless iterations of vulgar jokes centering on the male anatomy, and hours of “Jackass” clips are testament to the crude pleasures of a phallic joke, and evidence of our continuing inability to tire of them.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that when done right, phallic jokes can make a movie, or at least salvage it. One such movie is “The Watch.” Sure, its flat writing and ham-fisted direction does nothing to convince the audience that the whole thing was based on a measly second or third-draft script, but “The Watch” is a terrible film with plenty of crude funnies in it.
The story is ultimately another spin on the rapidly aging “bromance” genre, but there is an underlying realness in its characters — or at least two of them — that gets muddled within the drowsy screenwriting.
Ben Stiller plays Evan Trautwig, the central character, a seemingly successful senior manager in a Costco store who finds it difficult to tell his beautiful wife that he is infertile. Evan has no real friends and thus is habitually forming clubs to meet others. Unfortunately, his dictatorial tendencies leave him with no lasting friends and plenty of loneliness.
Little of this nuance makes it through the haphazard storytelling, though. Like Vince Vaughn’s character, Bob — who has only a few scenes to flesh out a complex father-daughter relationship before succumbing to a rushed closure — Evan gets thinned out fast enough for the story to unwind. What ends up on screen is an awkward character development that feels like a writer drawing ideas for back stories from a hat.
Along with Jonah Hill’s militia-minded Franklin and recent divorcee Jamarcus (British comedian Richard Ayoade who deserves a much better script that this), Evan and Bob form a neighborhood watch after the bloody murder of a Costco security guard. Though Evan tries to instill a sense of serious duty via detailed charts, the other three quickly bond over a penchant for partying and yes, plenty of phallic jokes.
Funnily enough, this is what saves the movie; the four actors fall naturally into a group dynamic that is believable, albeit in an adults-acting-like-drunk-boys kind of way. They are different but in a way that seems compatible with each other. Like a real gang of rowdy guys, each settles into a role that completes the group. Evan is the responsible one, Bob the motor-mouth playmaker, Franklin is the loose cannon with entertaining psychopathic inclinations, and Jamarcus is the weird one.
They are archetypes, yes, but their adolescent group dynamic feels comfortably familiar.
The actors’ are clearly on a comedic roll, throwing off dirty one-liners one after the other with splendid comic timing. The best scenes feature them just sitting around, planning things and dryly ribbing each other. Even those who find any of the actors a pain to watch in other films (and with Vaughn and Stiller, there are probably a lot) won’t deny the chemistry of the quartet.
But the film falters almost everywhere else. The plot is riddled with illogical holes, the twists are boring and the main storyline involves aliens.
“The Watch” is tired storytelling that will likely leave those who don’t enjoy endlessly crude humor wondering why they’re watching. The best way to say it is: It’s funny but it’s just not good.
Directed by Akiva Schaffer
Starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade
English with Indonesian subtitles