A Neighborhood That Doesn’t Have Much to Watch For

Movie review of “The Watch”

BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA

A comedy starring four talented funnymen protecting their town by hunting aliens like suburban Men in Black sounds like it could be an interesting clash between an intergalactic army and a small middle-class American group of friends. But, if any aliens where going to probe this film for any brainy laughs, they would come out disappointed, and would probably have another reason for enslaving Earth.

In Akiva Schaffer’s “The Watch,” he attempts a second feature film after directing many of the digital shorts on “Saturday Night Live.” Because of his list of previous work, it would be expected to anticipate jokes that have a mix of cleverness, shock and some low-brow humor. Instead, the film takes the easy way out with lazy jokes the whole way through that aren’t good enough for the film’s cast to work with.

Evan Trautwig (Ben Stiller) is known around the town of Glenview, Ohio for the various clubs he’s in charge of throughout the community. He has a loving wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) and is the manager at a local Costco store. After a security guard is mysteriously murdered one night, Evan institutes a Neighborhood Watch group. At the first meeting, the only new members are the fun-loving Bob (Vince Vaughn), the switchblade-wielding Franklin (Jonah Hill) and the British divorcee Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade). As they gather clues about the murder, they begin to realize that the cause of the strange events might be linked to something not of their world.

Despite the thin material of the film, Stiller, Vaughn, Hill and Ayoade bring the only wit of the movie with their interaction of different personalities. With Stiller’s nice-guy qualities, Hill’s wild-card unpredictability, Vaughn’s comical over-protectiveness of his teenage daughter and Ayoade’s comical foreign tendencies, their quartet is what wrings out whatever few chuckles the story has. The presence of the four leads is mostly what the film has going for it.

The screenplay, by Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jared Stern, has a rather disheartening feel that the combined work of three writers only added up to gross-out jokes; they just go for the easy laughs. At one point, you begin to wonder if the leads told the director that they deserve more than sex-related jokes, because they do. Even the aliens’ weakness is a gag of that low caliber, and the writers’ plans for the alien invasion is, unfortunately, pretty unimaginative.

There are a couple of subplots involving the personal lives of some of the Neighborhood Watch members; and, at some points, the film spends more time on these parts of the story than they should. One of the plot lines goes into how Stiller’s character can’t get his wife pregnant. Not only does this lead to more annoying sex jokes, but it doesn’t even feel like it belongs in the movie.

Seeing as how director Schaffer has considerable experience working with comedic actors on SNL, he’s able to work with great talents and extract highly memorable laughs out of the material that’s given to him. But, even though he has some successful actors to work with for “The Watch,” even Schaffer can’t salvage much from this neighborhood.

Final grade: C