[Screen It]


(2012) (Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn) (R)

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Sci-fi Comedy: Four suburban homeowners form a neighborhood watch when their small town comes under attack by aliens.
Evan (BEN STILLER) is a suburban homeowner and husband who manages the local Costco. One morning, he shows up to work and learns that one of his favorite employees, night watchman Antonio (JOE NUNEZ), was horrifically killed and skinned the night before while on duty. When Sgt. Bressman (WILL FORTE), the local cop assigned to case, shows an almost complete lack of caring, Evan takes it upon himself to solve the murder.

He decides to form a Neighborhood Watch and recruits such neighbors as fun-loving Bob (VINCE VAUGHN), who's having problems with his rebellious teenage daughter Chelsea (ERIN MORIARITY); Franklin (JONAH HILL), whose dreams of becoming a cop were crushed and who now lives at home with his mom; and Jamarcus (RICHARD AYOADE), a British man looking to get more involved in his community. In addition to running afoul of Bressman and a local gun nut named Manfred (R. LEE ERMEY), Evan is having intimacy problems with his patient wife, Abby (ROSEMARY DeWITT), and won't admit to her that he is sterile. Meanwhile, Bob is having a hard time with Jason (NICHOLAS BRAUN), Chelsea's bullying boyfriend.

Matters are made worse when Evan and the Watch discover that their small town is ground zero for an impending alien invasion. The armada is poised to strike Earth, but only if the local alien creatures can get a communications array to work -- the one they're building inside Evan's Costco store.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
The new sci-fi comedy "The Watch" goes to show just how hard it is to make a really good sci-fi comedy. There has to be just the right tone and balance of laughs, thrills, chills, and spills, and the cast has to walk the line between taking the wacky goings-on in such a flick seriously and knowing when to make light of the extraordinary. The original "Ghostbusters" and "Men in Black" walked this line beautifully and were alternately hilarious and thrilling films. Not so much the second "Ghostbusters" or "Men in Black" pics.

"The Watch" falls into the second category. The mix is just not there. It's not a terrible film. Definitely one of those Friday-night On-Demand video rentals. But you can see what all concerned were going for here, and you can lament where they came up short. Above all, I think it was a mistake to go for a hard R. Co-writers Seth Rogen, Jared Stern, and Evan Goldberg become way too obsessed with penis and ejaculation jokes and lazily rely on old alien invasion clichés to fill their sci-fi/horror quota. At the same time, the creatures are too imposing and vicious to fit in with such a broad raunchy comedy. They're kind of a cross between the creatures from "Signs" and those from "District 9," and they kill in very graphic ways. So one minute you're laughing, the next you're wincing. That's hard to make work.

Ben Stiller stars as Evan, a suburban homeowner and husband who manages the local Costco store and is a habitual club former. Evan has intimacy issues on account that he is sterile, and seeks to fill his free time avoiding his patient wife (Rosemary DeWitt) by starting up jogging clubs, Spanish-language groups, and so forth. When one of his employees is viciously murdered, he decides to form a Neighborhood Watch when the local cops prove inept.

Thus, we meet Vince Vaughn's fun-seeking suburbanite Bob, who is dealing with a rebellious teenage daughter; Jonah Hill's cop wannabe Franklin, who still lives at home with his mother; and Richard Ayoade's neighborly Jamarcus, a transplanted Brit who dreams of rescuing a hot Asian housewife and having her perform a sexual favor in return. The four never really come into any focus, and Evan and Bob's domestic worries seem very out of place in the overall plot of the film.

On the one hand, you can't put guys like Stiller, Vaughn, and Hill together in a film and not mine some big laughs. Hill, in particular, seems to be ad-libbing like crazy these days and his lines are much funnier than probably whatever was written on the page. On the other hand, director Akiva Schaffer doesn't give them much guidance here. He appears to direct the scenes like a fan boy. I can just imagine him on set giving directions such as "Vince, remember how you played that scene where you rallied the guys in 'Old School?' That was awesome. Do that here!' Or, "Ben, do what you did in that one scene in 'Meet the Parents' where you were misunderstood and you wigged out. That was SO funny!"

British comedian Ayoade actually comes off as the most memorable comic presence in the film. Sure, the producers probably wanted to get Russell Brand or Sacha Baron Cohen and ran out of money. But he fills in well, and he is probably the one you'll remember the most from the film mainly because he is the guy you - or at least most American audience members - have seen the least. I also really liked DeWitt in the movie. She's allowed to show off some kooky comic timing late in the film when she gets to team up with the boys, and I wish the script had been kind enough to factor her into the movie earlier.

The Powers That Be keep threatening to make a "Ghostbusters 3" with the old cast mixing with a new crop of busters. And frequently you hear names like Stiller, Vaughn, Hill, and Rogen tossed around as being potential successors to Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, and Hudson. "The Watch" goes to prove that the first thing you need before casting such a flick is a great screenplay! I give "The Watch" a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed July 24, 2012 / Posted July 27, 2012

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