Crude comedy is almost unwatchable
To serve and protect: Richard Ayoade, Vince Vaugh, Ben Stiller and Jonah Hill in “The Watch.”
Updated: August 13, 2012 3:47PM
Not just witless and pointless, but almost unrelentingly mirthless as well, “The Watch” is definitely one to watch out for — and avoid.
Especially if you want to avoid unpleasant reminders about the dangerously gun-crazy times we live in.
Originally entitled “Neighborhood Watch,” the comedy was renamed after Florida neighborhood patroller George Zimmerman shot and killed black teenager Treyvon Martin this February.
Worse, in the wake of the recent “Dark Knight Rises” shootings, “The Watch” features a scene in which Jonah Hill, playing a twitchy, borderline-psycho who joins a suburban watch group after being turned down by local police, proudly displays a small arsenal of handguns, automatic weapons and ammunition he’s been hiding under his bed in the house where he lives with his mother.
It’s supposed to be a “Yeah, buddy, all right!” high-fiving kind of a moment, since the weapons are needed to resist an impending alien invasion. But the sight of that stash of guns basically generated nothing but silence at a recent preview screening. Perhaps a few nervous laughs here and there.
Nervous and awkward laughs are about the only kind offered by “The Watch,” despite a promising premise for a summer action-comedy — small-town doofuses save the world — and an impressive comedy pedigree.
“The Watch” was co-written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (“Superbad,” “Pineapple Express”), directed by Akiva Schaffer (a member of the Lonely Island comedy group best know for short “Saturday Night Live” films such as “Lazy Sunday”) and cast with comic actors such as Hill, Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn, plus British sitcom star and director Richard Ayoade (“The IT Crowd,” who steals the show, such as it is), all of whom can be very funny in the right film,
Unfortunately, there’s not much that’s right about this one.
Stiller plays dorky do-gooder Evan, a concerned citizen and civic booster in tiny Glenview, Ohio (where he manages the local Costco), who takes it personally when the night watchman at his store is murdered, mangled and stripped of his skin.
Evan issues a call for volunteers to join a citizen’s patrol to police the town and track down the killer. But the only recruits that show up are over-protective dad Bob (Vaughn) looking for brewskis and a boys’ night out, butterfly-knife flicking Franklin (Hill as the afore-mentioned police department reject) and inexplicably British Jamarcus (Ayoade), who Evan is happy to meet because he’s been “in the market” for a black friend.
Eventually, after a bizarre run in with R. Lee Ermy as a shotgun-toting redneck and the group’s discovery of a metallic orb that allows them to blow up cows and such, they deduce that Glenview is under attack by skin-stealing space aliens (they use the skins to disguise themselves, you see). In fact, this is pretty much the same plot as J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8” from last year, except we’ve got over-grown adolescents here instead of actual teenage boys and its supposed to be funny.
It’s not, though, except for a few stray moments here and there (98 minutes is a long time to expect a cast like this to be entirely unamusing).
Partially the problem is that the film can’t make up its mind whether it wants to go for raunchy comedy, or heartfelt male bonding or sci-fi action thrills. In fact, it does end with a full-tilt shoot-‘em-up at the Costco in which Evan and Bob take turns shooting an already-dead alien point-blank 10 or 20 times; yet more nervous laughter ensues.
But mainly the issue is sheer laziness. The humor is low-grade crude and almost entirely genital-obsessed, including a scene in which the guys stand around and discuss at length how much the aliens’ gooey-green blood reminds them of their most familiar bodily fluid — touching, smelling and tasting in the name of science.
All in all, they provide a spectacle that any hostile space alien could point to as a good justification for invasion and extermination.