THE WATCH (formerly called NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH until the shooting of Trayvon Martin forced the studio to change the title) is a bunch of near-misses, a few hits, and a lot of just flat-out missing the target. There are moments that are funny, but too many that aren't and casting Ben Stiller as the straight man while everyone else gets to have all the fun was just a bad idea from the start.
Ben Stiller's a funny guy when he's allowed to be, like in ZOOLANDER, DODGEBALL, and TROPIC THUNDER and his awesome one-season television show, but here he's stuck playing the most boring character in the movie - Evan, the manager of the local Costco. Evan loves his job, his suburban life, and his wife Abby (Rosemarie Dewitt). He's as vanilla as they come, and I was hoping that Stiller would find something subversive in the role, but that doesn't happen.
One night a security guard working the night shift at Evan's Costco is brutally murdered, and Evan, offended by the very idea of crime in his idyllic neighborhood, decides to form up a local neighborhood watch. He only manages to get three others to join him- Bob (Vince Vaughn), a family man devoted to his daughter who's just looking for a little bonding with the guys over beers, Franklin (Jonah Hill), a rather intense young man who failed the police academy tests and wants to join the force, and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), a British man who is new to the neighborhood.
But the four soon realize that they're in over their heads - this isn't a crime spree, it's a precursor to an alien invasion, and since no one believes them, especially the local police sergeant (Will Forte), the Watch decides to handle it themselves. Hilarity then ensues, as it must.
There are moments that work - I think Vince Vaughn gives it the most, even if he's playing a type of character we've seen before from him, and Jonah Hill gets some laughs by flexing up a bit and trying to be the tough guy. It's Richard Ayoade that gets the best lines, and he delivers them smartly and with a lot of laughs. But there's just not much there there. There are stretches of dialogue that add nothing to the film except to watch these actors riff off each other, and you'd think that would be enough, but it's just retreads of the plot with dick jokes sprinkled in. The script is written by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg, but it feels more improv than anything, and not the good kind either. Much of it feels like the stuff that Judd Apatow would wisely cut out of his movies. I expected better work from those writers, and the story just isn't much to hang a movie on.
There are moments that work - Will Forte trying to revive a fallen comrade felt like something straight out of MACGRUBER (KFBR392), there are some funny bits of physical comedy, and there's one particular cameo that I thought was pretty hilarious considering the character he plays, but it's not enough. The story is predictable all the way through, and though there are times that the movie wants to say something about male bonding and friendship, those times are few and they mostly don't work anyway.
It's not a very long movie but it felt like it - the pacing is all wrong for what is ostensibly a comedy. Everyone here has done better work before, and Ben Stiller, especially, should have brought a little more flavor to what, as written, is a very bland character. THE WATCH fails most of the time at being funny, and for a comedy that's pretty much unforgivable. Akiva Schaffer, who directed the very underrated HOT ROD, has made a successful comedy before, but this time, it's just flat.