Some movies make you more hopeful than they should, given who’s in charge behind the camera. When a new R-rated comedy comes from director Akiva Schaffer (Hot Rod, The Lonely Island), co-written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (The Green Hornet, Pineapple Express, Superbad), and stars a bunch of fully capable (in the right circumstances) comedic geniuses (Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade), we expect a lot more than a 98-minute Costco commercial. Sadly, aside from a few laughs that should have rung louder than the finale’s gunfire, it’s about all we really get from the re-titled (originally Neighborhood Watch until the Trayvon Martin shooting) alien invasion comedy, The Watch.
Evan (Stiller) lives a quiet life in Glenview, Ohio, where he’s the general manager of his local Costco. He has a house in the suburbs and the only thing he lives for now is the respect of his neighbors and hopes for the insemination of his wife Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt). When his Costco night security guard, Antonio (Joe Nunez), is skinned alive and all that’s at the scene of the crime is some seminal-textured green goo, Evan takes to the local high school football game to announce he’s starting up a neighborhood watch to find Antonio’s killer.
Evan’s only recruits come in the form of Bob (Vaughn), who sees this as an opportunity to escape from his home duties where he spends his free time keeping an eye on his daughter Chelsea (Erin Moriarty). Franklin (Hill), a high school dropout who can’t pass the police exam and lives with his mother, and Jamarcus (Ayoade), happily divorced and looking for action in the form of scared, single women looking for protection from scary noises. Evan’s three new cohorts start off disastrously with vehicular open-container tickets while staking out Costco and getting egged by a group of teens led by “Skater Kid” (Johnny Pemberton) at the football field. After the ornery old cuss Manfred (R. Lee Ermey) and Skater Kid wind up dead and our ragtag heroes find an orb that blows up anything after being fingered, it’s up to the new neighborhood watch to stop an impending alien invasion.
Red herrings are littered throughout what would have been far better had they gone with an extraterrestrial-themed version of The ‘Burbs. It also might have helped had the film not been originally spearheaded by producer Shawn Levy (he of undeserved fame via Real Steel, Date Night, both Nights at the Museums, 2006’s Pink Panther, Cheaper by the Dozen, Just Married, and Big Fat Liar). It’s painfully obvious that Rogen and Goldberg were brought in to rewrite Jared Stern’s (Mr. Popper’s Penguins) original script but it feels as if all they did was add a bunch of f-bombs, the word “cum” as many times as possible, and more dick jokes than a fraternity party would know what to do with to get their coveted R-rating.
Very little of the wit they displayed in any of their previous work comes through here, leading me to believe that there was too much improv going on as well. Richard Ayoade however, manages to make a great Hollywood entrance and steals the film. I will admit that I laughed far more than I should have, but nowhere near as hard or as often as I wanted. While definitely not one of the worst comedies ever made, it sits somewhere in the middle, making it perfect for a night out at your local cinema pub where inebriation will make the film seem as funny as Vaughn thinks he is.
You would expect more from Schaffer, the man who helped make all those SNL “Digital Shorts” and co-created the brilliantly absurd Lonely Island. The lack of studio faith also shines through with this weekend’s dump slot between last week’s Dark Knight Rises and next week’s Total Recall. Chances are Fox just wants to squeeze some quick opening weekend money out of their lemon before The Watch finds its way to being viewed from your couch.
Photos courtesy Twentieth Century Fox