Silver Screen: The Watch **
Is The Watch a comedy about suburban life, a jokey sci-fi sendup, or a chatty bro-bonding movie? Is it another tightly controlled Ben Stiller vehicle, a Judd Apatow-inspired riff-fest, or a shaggy excuse for Vince Vaughn to be Vince Vaughn? Director and Saturday Night Live alum Akiva Schaffer can't seem to decide, and as a result The Watch tries to be all of these things without ever really doing one of them well. The result is a comedic slurry of slapdash plotlines and aimless tangents that cannot be held together by the scattershot jokes that work about half the time.
Ben Stiller stars as Evan, the Type-A good neighbor who's an unstoppable machine of community involvement. When he's not managing the local Costco, he's teaching Spanish to the elderly, organizing benefits, and leading exercise expeditions. When the idyllic Ohio town is stunned by the grizzly murder of a Costco security guard, Evan organizes a neighborhood-watch group to patrol the streets.
Not everyone in town is as determined as Evan, however, so only three other guys join the crew: loutish dad Bob (Vince Vaughn), volatile wannabe cop Franklin (Jonah Hill), and prim Brit Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), a new transplant to the neighborhood trying to meet people. Evan is eager to hit the streets, but the inertia of incompetence keeps the rest of the boys happy drinking beers in Bob's tricked-out rec room. It's mostly by accident that they discover the real threat to the neighborhood: A race of generically menacing aliens from outer space have chosen the Ohio hamlet as ground zero for an imminent invasion that will lead to the destruction of the Earth.
It takes The Watch a fairly long time to get around to the alien-invasion plot twist, but what's odd is that it has almost no real effect on the trajectory of the movie. Even when these characters discover that their tiny, comfortable existence is about to be upended by a cosmic threat, they carry on with business as usual. Despite the emergence of an interstellar conflict, the movie still spends a protracted amount of time on a subplot about Bob keeping his pretty teen daughter (Erin Moriarty) away from her shady boyfriend and a diversion about the marital troubles between Evan and his wife (Rosmarie DeWitt).
The notion that these characters are so caught up in their own dramas that they fail to give proper attention to an infinitely larger problem could itself potentially be played for laughs, but it’s not. Obviously viewers know that the alien apocalypse isn't a serious concern in a frivolous summer comedy, but when the characters can't even be bothered to care about the central plot, the whole endeavor feels like a tedious exercise. This isn't anything so high-minded as a meta-textual acknowledgement of genre tropes-- it's just lazy filmmaking, as though the filmmakers committed some cinematic crime and were forced to make a big-budget comedy as part of some work-release program, and they're rushing to get it done.
None of the disparate elements in The Watch ever coheres with the rest. That's a shame, because it does feature some funny moments and excellent performers. Will Forte continues to craft a reputation as one of the best bit players in the business, stealing scenes as an incompetent police officer, and R. Lee Ermey and Johnny Pemberton have nice one-scene appearances. Ayoade is a new face in American movies, but he's got an impressive résumé of British comedy that includes being one of the writers and stars of the brilliant and short-lived cult classic series Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. DeWitt is lovely and amazing, but her role is clearly shoehorned into the movie simply to have an adult female character. But the script, cowritten by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Jared Stern, makes no natural room for an adult female-- it's too busy looking for new opportunities to reference semen, balls, and horny Asian ladies. This reflexive raunchiness, having lost all power to shock, feels tired and uninspired.
It's called The Watch, but maybe don't.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.