Hollywood, it seems, has a hard time with that boundary between the seduction of red-blooded capitalism and upholding some semblance of good taste. Sometimes the powers that be need a reminder about the latter, and a super conservative church or fiery feminist group or ticked off mommy organization will raise up in collective opposition against whatever it is that’s set them off.
But The Watch, a movie starring Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn scheduled for release in T-minus one day, has met relatively no backlash. Although the protagonists are soccer dads banded together to save their little suburban enclave from an alien invasion — not an overzealous, power-crazed dude bloodthirsty for young, unarmed black boys in hoodies — now just doesn’t seem like the time to put out a film about a neighborhood watch. At all. In any capacity.
If Fox had held on to the idea for Independence Day and dropped it five years later, let’s say shortly after the 9/11 attacks, that decision would’ve been atrocious. Even though Will Smith battling slimy extraterrestrial beings vying for world domination had zip to do with the orchestrated devastation of several unsuspecting cities and the deaths of thousands of innocent citizens. Still, who wants to look at a ravaged, war-torn backdrop in the wake of seeing it played out in real life on the news? Likewise, it would’ve been uncomfortably awkward to watch the gun-blazin’ rampage from Higher Learning following the senseless shootings at Columbine or Virginia Tech or now, Aurora, Colorado. So certainly, with the Trayvon Martin case still fresh, open, and unresolved, and George Zimmerman waltzing in and out of jail every time I log onto CNN, now’s not the time to make slapstick humor out of neighborhood watches.
The concept for the flick was developed in 2008 and filming started in October 2011, when Trayvon was still a kid living a normal life with his family, so we know the studio wasn’t making some twisted attempt to pimp the public imagination about pseudo-tough guy vigilantism. I can at least give them that credit. But it also had to do some backpedaling in its marketing campaign to make the movie, in which Stiller’s character joins the watch to avenge the murder of a friend, more palatable to moviegoers.
So in May, Fox quietly changed its title from Neighborhood Watch to just The Watch in an effort to disassociate the film from the real-life catastrophe, and released a statement that explained the move: “As the subject matter of this alien invasion comedy bears no relation whatsoever to the recent tragic events in Florida, the studio altered the title to avoid any accidental or unintended impression that it might.” Clearly, that was a step toward sensitivity. Fox perceived some sort of fallout, but their gesture just didn’t go quite far enough. They should’ve shelved that bad boy for a few years and released it when wounds aren’t as fresh and the association isn’t as immediate.
The Watch may very well be a big-screen clunker not even worth talking about — and I suspect that it will be, just because the trailers don’t give me so much as the urge to break a smile or chuckle, politically correct or not, much less shell out the darn near $10 it costs to go to the movies these days. Reviews aren’t flattering, either, at least not the ones I’ve seen. I’m not even so sure how funny it would’ve been if it had dropped in a social climate unfettered by heightened sensitivities. But it’s the principle, not the ticket sales, not the critical acclaim, that’s being called on the carpet.
In the whole scope of issues to throw down a gauntlet against, this one hits pretty low on the list of things that’ll keep me up at night. Even as far as the Trayvon case goes, there are far more important implications and things to discuss than a flash in the Hollywood pantheon. This movie will come and go, we may or may not go see it, and it’ll be on to the next topic. Rightfully so. But sometimes, you just raise an eyebrow and say, “Hmmm, that’s kinda tacky.” So that’s exactly what I’m saying here. Hmm Fox. That’s kinda tacky. Do better. That is all.