(NEW YORK) -- Originally called Neighborhood Watch but re-titled The Watch in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, this comedy stars Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and newcomer (at least to U.S. audiences) Richard Ayoade. In addition, two-thirds of the writing team is Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who’ve collaborated on several gut-busting movies, most notably 2007's hit comedy Superbad. It should be noted The Watch was directed by Akiva Schaffer, one-third of The Lonely Island (the other two thirds being Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone).
That kind of comic pedigree leads to some high expectations, right? Unfortunately, one should not expect too much.
The plot: Ben Stiller plays Evan, an overzealous goody two-shoes who works very hard at contributing to society by forming a running club, participating in town council meetings, forming a Spanish language group for the elderly and being the best possible Costco manager he can be. He also has a lovely wife who desperately wants to get pregnant but Evan is so busy, he's never available when she’s ovulating.
When Costco’s overnight security guard is mysteriously murdered, Evan decides to form a neighborhood watch group to help the under-staffed and inept local police force catch the culprit. His efforts attract three other guys:
- There's Bob, a typical fast-talking Vince Vaughn character. He isn’t looking to be a hero -- just a chance to do some male bonding in his man cave.
- Franklin, played by Hill, is a police department reject who's obsessed with bad guys and displays what's likely meant to be a humorous violent streak. Unfortunately, this is the one character who may remind you of the reason the film changed its name.
- Lastly, there's Jamarcus (Ayoade), recently divorced and wanting to use the neighborhood watch as an avenue to ultimately engage in a particular sexual act.
The first 40 minutes of The Watch is a mix of the perfunctory, mildly humorous vulgarity one comes to expect from a Rogen and Goldberg script. There are also one or two hilarious bits, which one also expects from a Rogen and Goldberg script. Then there’s Ayoade, who you likely haven't seen before unless you're a fan of the British import comedy The IT Crowd. Ayoade doesn’t even need to open his mouth to get laughs, and is the funniest thing about The Watch.
On the other hand, we’ve never before seen Stiller, Vaughn or Hill fight aliens. When that happens, The Watch finally starts living up to its pedigree but unfortunately, it’s just not enough. Part of the problem is that the film tries but fails to get us to feel for Evan and Bob and their personal stories when in the end, all of that proves irrelevant to the bottom line, which is humor. We've seen Stiller, Vaughn and Hill play various iterations of these same characters in other films, and delivering the same jokes as well. Funny the first few times, not so funny anymore, and a disappointing waste of Stiller's talents in particular.
Two-and-a-half out of five stars.
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