Friday, July 27, 2012
The Watch 
Roger Ebert's review
The Watch (directed by Akiva Schaffer and written by Jared Stern, Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg) can perhaps best be summarized as a mash-up of two 1950s era genres -- the screw-ball comedy and the alien invasion film -- updated in both cases, for better/for worse (arguably more for worse than for better ...) to contemporary America today.
I write "arguably more for worse" because both the CNS/USCCB and Roger Ebert took the film to task for its gratuitous crudeness. I don't often directly quote other reviewers in my own reviews but I do think that Roger Ebert had part of this criticism exactly right when he wrote: "The dialogue by Jared Stern and Seth Rogan benefits from the practiced comic timing of the actors, and by some astonishing verbal imagery. But I dunno. It's so determined to be crude, vulgar and offensive that after a while I grew weary. Abbott and Costello used to knock out funnier movies on this exact intellectual plane without using a single F, S, C, P or A word. It's not that I was offended; it's that I wasn't amused. This movie is easily the equal of Abbott and Costello, however, in scenes where the characters stare in disbelief from behind shrubbery." The CNS/USCCB review adds complaints/concerns about some of the film's occasional but certainly needlessly graphic sexual antics.
To these two complaints (which I also agree with), I would add a third issue, though this may be, in fact, what the movie was intended to be about: the questionable opinions of "aliens" that we hold in our society.
I say this because the "alien invasion" movies of the 1950s about "strange blobs" often with _mind controlling properties_ "dropping out of the sky" causing havoc to the good folks in small good ole' American towns "in the heartland of America" have long been understood to have mirrored Cold War anxieties that somehow Communism would "drop out of the sky" and infect the minds of good-ole Americans in the States.
With this scenario in mind, I would submit that this movie is actually very similar to those "space invasion" movies of the past:
In The Watch, a community minded / do-gooder, Evan (played by Ben Stiller), a manager of a local Costco in a non-descript Ohio (midwestern) suburban town decides to organize a "Neighborhood Watch" after one of his employees, night watchman and recently naturalized immigrant Antonio Guzman (played by Joe Nunez) was killed at the Costco one night in a particularly bizarre fashion. Not only was he killed, but whoever killed him _stole his skin_.
A few days later, Evan slips the nice/conscientious high schooler doing the play-by-play announcing at the local high school football game a 20-dollar bill (yes, it's kinda a bribe, but a nice/small/gentle one...) to let him "take the mike" for a brief moment during half-time at the game to "make an announcement." Evan announces that wants to create a "neighborhood watch," to help the police solve this bizarre crime.
He gets three other volunteers -- Bob (played by Vince Vauhn) a local contractor (a small businessman) with a big pick-up truck and a really, really cool "man cave" that he made out of his garage complete with a gigantic flatscreen (bought at Evan's Costco), a pool table and a bar; Franklin (played by Jonah Hill), a younger guy, somewhat of a loser still living with his mom, who "always wanted to be a cop" but was rejected for a rather impressively long list of deficiencies -- lack of both physical and mental aptitude as well as, well, anger issues... ; and a wealthy sounding Indian named Jamarkus (played by Richard Ayoade) who had recently moved into the neighborhood from "across the pond" in England.
Okay, what is the fundamental job of a "neighborhood watch?" Answer: to keep "aliens" out.
The whole movie becomes then about aliens, different kinds of aliens. And yes, this _ought_ to make us squirm:
Antonio was actually a kind of "good alien." He worked hard, he even got his citizenship, but then AN EVIL ALIEN apparently attacked him, killed him AND EVEN STOLE HIS SKIN so that the "Evil Alien" could "hide" covered by "the skin" of a "good one."
Jamarkus was another kind of alien. Sure he was foreign, his skin was brown (browner than Antonio's in fact) and he didn't necessarily get all the jokes that the other three, Bob, Franklin, and Evan, were telling each other. BUT JAMARKUS WAS A RELATIVELY RICH ALIEN. So no one ever really questioned whether or not "he belonged."
Finally, of course, there were the really lizardy, green saliva dripping EVIL Aliens who "lurk in the shadows," looking to kill good people to cover themselves with their skin.
So, yuck. This is really a rather fowl mouthed and yes, at times, sexually crude film which then portrays foreigners even seemingly "good foreigners" in EVIL / untrustworthy light.
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Is this, for better and probably mostly for worse, really what we've become?