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Alien Nation: The Watch mashes up genres to limited success 

Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn star in the newest comedy The Watch.

click to enlarge the-watch.jpg
The first time I saw the trailer for The Watch (then called Neighborhood Watch) was two days after George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. All you could really do is wince at the timing and feel sorry for everyone involved in the project. As the months progressed, the trailers focused more on the alien invasion plot line as opposed to the neighborhood watch aspects. It looked like maybe the film could avoid the negative comparisons it was receiving at the beginning of its marketing run.

As of press time, The Watch had flopped pretty horribly, making only $13 million in its opening weekend on a $68 million dollar budget. Some speculate that the movie bombed because of the neighborhood watch subject matter, which I don't buy since the Aurora massacre had absolutely no negative effects on The Dark Knight Rises record breaking box office totals. I think The Watch is tanking because critical reviews are poor, word of mouth is nonexistent and everyone is still spending their movie budget on Batman. But it's unfair to judge films on what they aren't, so let's look at what it is.

The Watch is mostly interested in Ben Stiller as Evan, a manager of an Ohio Costco who is shocked and devastated when his security guard friend is chopped to pieces and flayed after hours in the big box store. Evan starts a neighborhood watch in hopes of keeping his beloved town safe and finding his friend’s killer.

Three men show up for the job. Vince Vaughn is a husband and father who just wants some time with the guys. Jonah Hill is a possibly psychotic police academy washout. Finally and thankfully, Richard Ayoade plays Jamarcus, a sexually nervous Brit new to the neighborhood.

After a very short time on the job, they figure out the security guard's murder is related to an alien invasion and they're the only guys who can stop it. Hijinks ensue.

The Watch isn't terrible. It's competently directed by Akiva Schaffer, the man behind the underrated Hot Rod, Lazy Sunday, Dick in a Box and a slew of other hilarious SNL Digital Shorts. The script is co-written by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, who have the classic script for Superbad on their resume. These guys aren't your average bad filmmakers who robotically churn out three crappy Adam Sandler flicks a year; they are damn funny guys with excellent comic timing and a sharp eye for absurdist humor.

The Watch is definitely funnier than I expected, even with Stiller playing the same neurotic, controlling micro-manager that he plays in everything. Vaughn is his usual self, but a little softer and with more heart, which leads to the funniest work from him I've seen in years. Hill is hysterical as usual, even though his character feels like a blatant rip-off of Seth Rogan's role in Observe and Report, but no one saw that movie, so maybe that’s OK. Richard Ayoade steals the movie with both hands, which was expected because he was brilliant on the British comedy The IT Crowd. He also directed one of the finest films of last year, Submarine. The Watch should have made him huge in the States.

The film is passable, but moves with some energy only when the four leads are riffing off of each other in what seem to be improvised moments. And that’s the problem. Schaffer appears to believe that if he puts four funny people together and lets them go then the movie be funny. Maybe this has been true in the past, but not here. The Watch could have been the next Ghostbusters, but because of the predictable and hollow script, it's the next Men in Black II.

In the end, it’s 90 minutes of breezy, stupid and occasionally funny material. Sometimes that's good enough, and sometimes you need something more substantial. For my money, it feels like the wrong script at the wrong time.

The Watch

2 Stars

Starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade and Will Forte.

Directed by Akiva Schaffer

Rated R

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