Starring: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie DeWitt
Rated: R, for some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language and violent images
Runtime: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Bottom line: Lazy, predictable and only occasionally funny
“The Watch” was filmed largely in Atlanta, particularly at EUE/Screen Gems studio. That is, unfortunately, the only reason to see it.
The movie is basically a teaming of some “Saturday Night Live” talent and Judd Apatow alums.
Director Akiva Shaffer is currently a writer and director for SNL, Will Forte has a prominent supporting role and Andy Samberg makes a cameo. The movie was co-written by relative newcomer Jared Stern and Apatow mainstays Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.
Throw in Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill, and this is a very familiar cast and crew. The only new face in this crowd is Richard Ayoade, an extremely talented Brit who co-starred in the TV hit “The IT Crowd” and wrote and directed the witty and charming indie coming of age tale, “Submarine.”
“The Watch” is among the worst work of all of those men, which should give you a good idea of what to expect.
The story is weak, even as absurd comedies go.
Evan (Stiller) loves his life as a Costco manager in Crestview, Ohio. The only blemish in his life is that he and his lovely wife Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) cannot conceive.
Evan’s life is shaken, though, when his night watchman Antonio (Joe Nunez) is brutally killed in the Costco. Evan forms a neighborhood watch and quickly recruits Bob (Vaughn), Franklin (Hill) and Jamarcus (Ayoade), all of whom are more concerned with boozing it up and hanging out than making the neighborhood safer or finding Antonio’s killer.
Things take a science fiction turn when the guys discover not only that Antonio’s killer is an alien, but also that a full-on alien invasion — of Crestview, Ohio — appears imminent.
The movie is “Grown-Ups” meets “The Burbs” meets “Super 8.”
Many scenes were shot using guided improvisation, where the actors improvise the dialogue in a number of takes, which allows the director or editor to choose the funniest moments and trim away those that go on too long.
Shaffer and his editor blew it on that last part.
Guided improv can create memorable, spontaneous moments, like Steve Carell getting his chest waxed in “The 40-Year Old Virgin.” But it can also become tedious and drag the comedy into the gutter if the comedians and director allow it. That is exactly what happened here.
The cast is talented enough that they do occasionally hit on funny lines, but the overwhelming majority of jokes have something to do with the penis. They seem so obsessed with everything to do with that organ that it begins to seem like we’re watching a bunch of pubescent boys rather than professional actors. Even a crucial plot point near the end of the film hinges on the male crotch. It becomes excruciatingly tedious.
“The Watch” also uncomfortably tone deaf to 2012 America. The title was originally “Neighborhood Watch,” but Twentieth Century-Fox changed the name after the Trayvon Martin shooting.
For many, it will still be difficult to find the humor in a group of overzealous, untrained vigilantes wielding weapons around suburban streets. Hill’s character, a failed wannabe police officer who constantly flicks and twirls his butterfly knife, is especially awkward.
The guys also discover an alien, laser-like weapon at one point and go crazy testing it out. They destroy a cow, a barn, a tractor and at least one hay bale. I couldn’t help thinking that these trigger happy morons were ruining someone’s livelihood.
Gee, how funny in the midst of a recession and drought.
“The Watch” is the latest American comedy to aim for the easiest below-the-belt jokes and to waste the talents of its cast, most of whom really need to move past the man-child stage of their careers.
Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.