The new sci-fi comedy The Watch is like a reunion of comedy greats: Ben Stiller playing his easily-flappable community leader, Vince Vaughn as a foulmouthed father with rage issues, Jonah Hill matching Vaughn in his hilarious freak-outs… and Richard Ayoade. Chances are you don’t recognize that name, and the advertising campaign hasn’t been helping: I’ve watched TV spots that literally have the announcer intoning “Stiller… Vaughn… Hill…” and completely skipping over the man who, honestly, is the best part of the movie.
A name you might recognize is The IT Crowd. The British sitcom, about three IT workers laboring in the basement of a wealthy corporation, gave us the sweet and hilarious Chris O’Dowd thanks to last year’s Bridesmaids, and now it seems as if Ayoade is following suit to the States. He had actually planned on making an American pilot of the show opposite Joel McHale, but when that fell through he bided his time making music videos and directing the indie Submarine. And while there are more highbrow ways he could have introduced himself to the American public than the fun but forgettable The Watch, he outshines his more famous co-stars.
Ayoade’s performance is a blend of the understated and the bizarre. First you have his appearance: This moppet-headed guy with wide eyes and an off-kilter grin. His delivery is a lilting deadpan, but the stuff that comes out of his mouth throws you for a loop. The moment, early in the film, when he introduces himself as Jamarcus without any sense of irony, you’re already giggling.
I don’t want to give away Ayoade’s one-liners because they make you burst out in disbelieving laughter when he drops them among the more frenetic, hyped-up humor of his co-stars. But he’s just a great complement to the other three, especially in moments like the “Asian housewife” bit in the trailer above. Like when he actually does encounter a grateful neighbor (check the red band trailer) and she fulfills his fantasy, he murmurs, “I’ll learn your name in due course.” Who talks like that? A hilarious star that everyone should know, that’s who.
What’s always struck me about Ayoade is how smart he is. When the American IT Crowd fell through, he parlayed his skills into other projects. Jamarcus might be a bit slow compared to the rest of the neighborhood watch guys, but Ayoade is very astute when evaluating how he held up against three comic greats. From his recent interview with Vulture:
What did it feel like filming The Watch with three big comedians?
They’re all kind of great. How hard [Stiller] works is impressive. But what I think is particularly impressive about him is, if you count the films that he’s been in and directed, how funny everyone else is in them, as well. Many actors don’t want anyone else to be funny other than them.
Your director, Akiva Schaffer, said that there was a fair bit of ad-libbing.
I did some. But it’s definitely daunting. They are incredible — I just tried to keep up. But in a way, being surrounded by people who are so good is also a relief, because it’s not really on you.
Whether you see The Watch in theaters or rent it in a few months, make sure that you do watch it at some point. This foursome works incredibly well together—and yes, the other guys are in fine form, especially when Vaughn is ranting about flaming tiger logos on their neighborhood watch jackets or when Hill is conjuring up his 21 Jump Street character.