Yet another attempt to go for the “Ghostbusters” funny-scary vibe crashes and burns in the under-written “The Watch,” originally titled “Neighborhood Watch” until the Treyvon Martin shooting created uncomfortable associations with the idea of self-appointed suburban guys with guns. But the attempt the neutralize the title does not save the idea and the can’t-believe-that-got-an-R raunch does equal comedy.
Ben Stiller plays Evan, a gung-ho guy who loves his job as a manager at Costco and his community in the quiet suburb of Glenview, Ohio. He is a one-man force for civic pride and improvement, starting up clubs and volunteer projects. One night the Costco security guard is brutally murdered, dismembered, and skinned. Even decides to start up a neighborhood watch to help find the killer and protect his community.
The only people who show up to help are Bob (Vince Vaughn), a contracter with a teenage daughter, Franklin (Jonah Hill), a guy who lives with his mother, resents failing the police academy tests, and likes to play with his knife, and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade of the British sitcom “I.T”), who is new in town and hoping to make friends, especially the kind who is willing to provide a very specific sexual favor. That’s the basis for a cohesive crack team of operatives, right! On to the stakeout and don’t forget the special jackets and the beer!
As the Watchers poke around, they begin to turn up in places were more bad things happen. A skateboarding kid and a cranky old guy (R. Lee Ermy) are the next victims. The Watchers start to do more than watch when they discover a mysterious orb that blows things up — and then the alien who is looking for it.
And all of this is an excuse for a lot of dumb destruction and vacuous verbal riffing, though once in a while there is a funny moment. The aliens leave behind green slime. There is a dumb and overlong discussion of the relationship of its properties to a particular male bodily fluid but also a nice underplayed reference to getting slimed at the Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards. Despite a script credited to “Pineapple Express” scribes Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg with Jared Sten, it feels like they were making it up as it went along. It is always fun to hear Vaughn’s randomly attention-deficit commentary and Billy Crudup shows up for some nicely creepy moments, but Rosemary DeWitt is wasted in yet another example of the Our Gang (“No Girls Allowed”) school of film comedy. The unfortunate truth is that changing the title just left us with exactly what audiences should not waste time doing . They didn’t bother to write it; you shouldn’t bother to “Watch” it.
Parents should know that this film has very crude and explicit language and sexual references, comic but sometimes graphic peril and violence, drinking (including drinking while driving), smoking and drug use, explicit sexual situations (orgy) with nudity, potty humor, attempted sexual assault of a teenager, switchblade, stockpile of weapons
Family discussion: Which character was most responsible? What surprised them the most about each other?
If you like this, try: “The Burbs” and “Attack the Block”