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Ben Stiller & Vince Vaughan battle space aliens in ’The Watch’

by Fred Topel
Contributor
Tuesday Jul 31, 2012
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"The Watch" is the fifth movie Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn have made together. They were comic adversaries in both "Dodgeball" and "Starsky & Hutch," and both had memorable cameos as rival newsmen in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy." You might not have even noticed Vaughn’s cameo in "Zoolander" as Derek Zoolander’s silent brother.

In "The Watch" they play neighbors who form a neighborhood watch. Their tactics are already amusingly inept. Then they stumble onto an alien invasion and things get even crazier.

Mention of a neighborhood watch in 2012 brings to mind the death of teenage Trayvon Martin in a Florida gated community in February. He was shot by a neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. About the same time, the marketing of the film - then titled "Neighborhood Watch" - released a trailer in which Jonah Hill (one of the film’s stars) imitates a gun with his hand and pretends to shoot at teenagers. The trailer was pulled, the title changed and the marketing campaign emphasized the film’s sci-fi plot.


A name change

In a recent USA Today interview, the film’s producer Shawn Levy said about the Martin shooting. "Well, it’s really two different situations." (The Martin case) "is completely unrelated to what happens in the movie, but (the title) was very much in the culture as a signifier of those events. ... Since the characters in the movie call themselves The Watch anyway, (changing the title) felt like an organic switch."

It was a sensitive point that Stiller agreed with. "Even if your movie doesn’t relate to (real events), you have to be respectful of the people who were affected by the shooting," he says. "In a case like that, all you can do is offer your movie as a silly, fun escape."

While Stiller has had a long and profitable history teaming with Vaughan, he thought outside the box in completing the casting of the four leads: choosing Oscar nominee Jonah Hill and British comedian Richard Ayoade to bring diversity to the roles.

"Jonah and I did a scene in ’Night in the Museum 2’ together," Stiller said. "We had so much fun doing that. We were really looking forward to work together again. I love working with these guys. It’s great to work with the people who make you laugh and who are funnier. Vince and I had a really fun time working on ’Dodgeball’ together and it was exciting to have a chance to do something new together and being in a totally different kind of relationship, too. I’m just a fan of these guys.


Different roles

Richard I met a little bit because we had been able to be executive producers of [his film] ’Submarine.’ They are all just really funny guys, and when you’re a fan of somebody that really helps. Especially, a movie like this because a lot that I felt it was going to have the ability for us to have fun with each other and feel like you want to hang out with these guys. So we were actually enjoying the process. I hope that will translate."

The different comedians all fill different roles in the group. Stiller plays the very ambitious overbearing leader. Vaughn plays a slacker who’d rather party than watch the neighborhood. Hill plays an edgy crazy guy who was rejected from the local police. Ayoade plays the mellow one who lets a few sexual comments slip past his unassuming demeanor.

"I think the fun of it is that all the characters are kind of unique in their own ways struggling with their own things," Vaughn said. "This kind of larger circumstance will kind of bring them all together. You kind of earn more of the friendship with that. The characters were all kind of conflicted first, or they were all seeing differently, but ultimately, I think you really earned a friendship or an understanding between the characters. So it’s more about them kind of being faced with something extraordinary versus just them growing some sort of personal lives."


Channeling Tom Cruise?

As the leader of the watch, Stiller is the first to spring into action. When he does, he runs very intensely after the aliens. Since Stiller has parodied Tom Cruise in many comedy sketches from ’The Ben Stiller Show’ to The MTV Movie Awards, it seems he might be emulating Cruise’s famous action hero run.

"I think Tom Cruise’s running has a huge impact on the world," Stiller said. "I mean let’s face it. Culturally, everybody wants to run like Tom Cruise. I think [my character] Evan is probably a Tom Cruise fan, and when he sees his moment to run after the alien, he goes into his full Cruise-mode."

Even with its share of explosions and alien battles, Stiller always put the comedy first. "

I feel like first and foremost the movie is a comedy," Stiller said. "The action in the movie should be believable, and you should believe the aliens, but just enough that you can have the fun of the movie. I feel like when people come to a movie like this, they want to laugh and they are not necessarily looking for us to be these sorts of kick ass/bad ass hero guys. They want to feel like it makes sense for the movie, and the comedy of it. So I feel like just sort of finding that tone that makes it feel real enough to, these real guys in that situation. And especially to the last part of the movie, we were trying to find as much humor within all this action moments. I feel like it’s still a part of the same movie."

Admittedly, this plot may be a stretch: Comedians as crime fighters in a science fiction alien invasion. Vaughn thinks the specifics aren’t as important as the big picture. "Sometimes it’s just really good to go and not take things seriously and get a chance to laugh," Vaughn said. "This movie does that really well. You get a bunch of guys together from different walks of life and at the end of the day there’s a lot of laughter and a lot of camaraderie. For me, what I love about comedies is that it helps us laugh and brings us all closer together."


A bit of everything

Vaughn’s character is the only member of the watch with kids. His teenage daughter is in her wild partying promiscuous Facebook posting phase, so he has to deal with that while the alien invasion is going on too.

"Clearly he has a real friendship with his daughter," Vaughn said. "She’s going down the road that he’s not comfortable with. So I liked that you liked that you could tell that they have a real nice thing between them, but it’s been tested in this time. And the other fun part that was a guy takes being a father very seriously, but it is really doing the watch because he wants some guys to hang out with and just sort of laugh and kind of getting away from those problems. So, I think that’s something that’s just relatable for all of us where we love our families, they are invested in it, but it is nice to get a break and get some perspective."

With comedy and aliens and action and family drama, it may sound like ’The Watch’ has a bit of everything. One thing that’s refreshingly missing is big life lessons. This isn’t one of those comedies where everyone learns something.

"In terms of the structure, I think that these characters were who they were, and I don’t think it was about having it all sort of tied up in bow," Stiller said. "It was more about, again, these guys hanging out and how they affected each other, but it wasn’t about teaching lessons or anything. I do think there is sort of an emotional connection these guys do have by this ending up being together. It’s not as necessarily overt. I think it’s actually a good thing because I feel like it’s there sort of underneath the surface, but it’s not kind of too sappy in that way or anything."

"The Watch" is in theaters.


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