Sunday, August 5, 2012


The Ben Stiller comedy “The Watch” (* out of ****) qualifies as a botch. Initially, Twentieth Century Fox had planned to release this prurient, lowest common denominator farce with the title “Neighborhood Watch.” When news from Florida broke that authorities had arrested an armed neighborhood watch volunteer and charged him with the murder of an unarmed African-American youth, the image-conscious studio deleted “Neighborhood” from the title. Anybody who tries to connect this tragic, true-life shooting with “Hot Rod” director Akiva Schaffer’s loutish lowbrow laffer is stretching their argument mighty thin. Basically, this raunchy comedy about four suburbanites who avert an alien invasion reminiscent of “Battleship” yields little hilarity. Stiller plays his usual uptight but affable buffoon. He struggles desperately throughout this second-rate slapstick saga to earn respect from anybody. Typically, the best comics are those who don’t call attention to themselves. Stiller isn’t the only one of the four who plays it as if “The Watch” were a melodrama. Meanwhile, Stiller’s gesticulatory co-star Vince Vaughn relies on his lame-brained, motor-mouthed loquacity to mine comedy from the least amusing things. For example, he finds it incredibly hilarious that he can pull one smaller doll after another larger one in a Russian nesting doll collection. Caught in the comic crossfire between Stiller and Vaughn, Jonah Hill holds his own in a performance that channels the sleaze balls that Giovanni Ribisi has played in both “Contraband” and “Ted.” Finally, the most unusual member of this goofy quartet is comedian Richard Ayoade who constitutes the equivalent of scripter Seth Rogen.  Without Ayoade’s bespectacled, African-English presence and accent, “The Watch” would be too Caucasian for its own good.  If Vaughn and Hill stand out as the most repellent of the four, then Stiller and Ayoade are the most likeable. Nevertheless, these losers make the silent movie comics The Keystone Kops appear intelligent by comparison.

Evan Trautwig (Ben Stiller of “Meet the Parents”) manages the Costco Wholesale Warehouse in the drowsy, little town of Glenview, Illinois. Evan gives new meaning to civic awareness. Not only has he organized a neighborhood jogging club, but he also teaches Spanish to seniors at the community center. He helped a Hispanic security guard, Antonio Guzman (Joe Nunez of “Superbad”), obtain his American citizenship. No sooner has Antonio celebrated his new status as an American citizen than he dies under mysterious circumstances during his night shift at Evan’s Costco. The manner of Antonio’s death is horrific; whatever killed him robbed him of his skin. Evan is upset when the local police fail to develop any leads other than ‘a wild animal’ premise in the demise of his night watchman. One of the smart aleck policemen, Sergeant Bressman (Will Forte of “Rock of Ages”), amuses himself when he implicates Evan in the murder. Conscientious citizen that he is, Evan rushes out to form a neighborhood watch. During an intermission at a Glenview High Spartans’ football game, our hero wears a T-shirt with the words NO MORE MURDERS on it and proclaims his ambitious plans. The spectators ridicule his poor, clueless Evan. Later, at his residence, our hero waits for what he hopes will be a standing room only crowd. Instead, three guys arrive. A construction manager named Bob (Vince Vaughn of “Wedding Crashers”), a psychotic twentysomething called Franklin (Jonah Hill of “21 Jump Street”) who lives with his mom and sleeps on a box springs filled with firearms and porno magazines, and a recently divorced, community conscious individual known only as Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade of “Submarine”) stop by Evan’s house. These three don’t have the same motives as Evan. He wants to bring Antonio’s killer to justice. Franklin is a high school drop-out that the local police rejected for employment. Bob joins because he needs a night off from his wife to bond with his buds. The group gets off to a rocky start when they relocate to Bob’s man cave to enjoy beers while Evan outlines his plans for a watch group. They argue about their insignia and wind up wearing gaudy jackets with flaming Chinese tigers flying. Sergeant Bressman tickets them by for having open beer in Evan’s Chevrolet mini-van during their first night out as ‘the watch.’ Pressman tickets Evan for posting 200 posters without a license. Eventually, our heroes bust a high school kid who mercilessly pelts them with eggs at the football field. Later, they tangle with an alien. Indeed, they blast it full of bullets, but their hail of lead serves only to stun the creature. Afterward, they take trophy photos of themselves with the alien. This scene is probably the funniest scene in “The Watch.” Little do these numbskulls know that the only way to stop these aliens is to rip off their genitalia!

Eventually, our heroes discover they are contending with extraterrestrial adversaries. These ugly looking aliens have holed up in Evan’s Costco Warehouse because it contains everything they need under one roof. Talk about obvious product placement! The aliens kill Earthlings without a qualm and bleed green slime. They have established their base of operations in the Costco warehouse basement. Their chief weapon is a metallic, basketball shaped object that fires a beam that disintegrates objects. Our half-witted heroes stumble onto it and atomize a harmless cow in a pasture. Along the way, they encounter some eccentric people whom they suspect are aliens disguised as humans. One of these is Evan’s next door neighbor, Paul (Mitt Romney lookalike Billy Crudup of “Public Enemies”), who behaves suspiciously until they learn what he is doing that attracts so many people. “Mr. Popper's Penguins” scenarist Jared Stern along with “Pineapple Express” scribes Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg manage to slip in some surprises. Nevertheless, they have penned better comedies. The profane, locker-room dialogue is cockamamie-oriented, and the guys are obsessed with male genitalia. “The Watch” resembles an uninspired spin on both “Ghostbusters” as well as “Men in Black.” If you like to watch movies where guys gush about the penis, you’ll enjoy “The Watch.”