Starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn. Written by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg. Directed by Akiva Schaffer. 14A. 100 min. Opens July 27.
The original title of this comedy (Neighbourhood Watch) was trimmed lest any viewers have any negative associations between the hijinks here and the controversy that surrounds the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer. The opening voiceover by Ben Stiller’s character also seems to have been tweaked to quell any qualms—“We value diversity,” Evan says of the citizens of the pleasant and presumably tolerant town of Glenview, Ohio.
Unfortunately, The Watch has problems far beyond any echoes with events in the real world. An obnoxious and incoherent dude-humour riposte to last summer’s alien-invasion two-fer of Super 8 and Attack the Block, it feels like three or four different movies that have been haphazardly sutured together.
The strictly cruise-control performances by Stiller and Vince Vaughn don’t help. Determined to solve the murder of a night watchman at the Costco he manages, do-gooder Evan assembles a posse of locals to patrol for suspicious activity. Naturally, his new cohorts—the motor-mouthed Bob (Vaughn), the vaguely sociopathic Franklin (Jonah Hill), and the nerdy Jamarcus (Richard Aoyade)—are more interested in goofing off than investigating the strange goings-on, which may be extra-terrestrial in origin.
Much of the script has the hallmarks of a Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg rewrite job, i.e., lots of jokes about balls. Equally grating is the automatic presumption that any weirdo who doesn’t smack of red-blooded hetero bro-ness is a potential alien lifeform (the women are less than human in general). Only the movie’s looniest moments and the terrific contributions by Will Forte as an arrogant local cop mark The Watch as any kind of kin to director Akiva Schaffer’s gloriously unhinged MacGruber or the best of his SNL Digital Shorts. There are also shades of The ’Burbs—Joe Dante’s 1989 black comedy in which Tom Hanks leads a group of similarly paranoid suburbanites—but the incessant Costco endorsements and mile-wide sentimental streak soon quash any hopes that The Watch will boast a more caustic take on middle-American existence. Of course, accomplishing that would require having some balls instead of just talking about them all the time.