A movie about the alien invasion of an unsuspecting neighbourhood and the everyday guys who step up to defend their homes, their town and their planet could, if done right, deliver laughs, scares, action and maybe even a smidgen of social commentary.
And it did, in British director Joe Cornish's 2011 sci-fi horror-comedy Attack the Block. But in The Watch, an Americanized mishmash of Attack the Block and a buddy flick, all traces of fun are sucked into a black hole of dense, inescapable comedic mediocrity.
There's trouble in the peaceful suburb of Glenview, Ohio: a Costco security guard has been murdered, and the man's uptight but well-meaning boss, Evan (Ben Stiller) forms a neighbourhood watch patrol to get to the bottom of it.
Joining the watch are the fun-loving Bob (Vince Vaughn), intense cop-wannabe Franklin (Jonah Hill) and easygoing newcomer Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade). But all is not as it seems, and it soon becomes apparent the killer might be of extraterrestrial origin. (Wait, is that a spoiler? Ah, no matter. You can't spoil something that already stinks.)
Originally titled Neighborhood Watch, the film's name was changed after Florida teen Trayvon Martin was gunned down by a neighbourhood watch coordinator. But a coincidental connection to a real-world tragedy is the least of this movie's problems.
It's not that The Watch is offensive -- the jokes about private parts, bodily fluids and so on are nothing we haven't heard before. It's just never particularly amusing. Not even the finely honed comic talent of its stars can save a script this limp or deliver jokes this flat.
And what a squandering of talent it is. It's been a while since Stiller or Vaughn knocked one out of the park, sure, but to see Hill here -- the comic heart of Superbad and an Oscar nominee for Moneyball -- is depressing. Same with talented Brit actor/director Ayoade. I had to watch a couple episodes of The IT Crowd on Netflix to scrub from my mind his tragic wasting in this movie.
Plus, the whole mess is directed by The Lonely Island's Akiva Schaffer. How does one of the guys behind those hilarious Saturday Night Live digital shorts yack up something this toothless and forgettable?
Don't feel bad about skipping The Watch, though. I'm sure the money Costco paid for what occasionally feels like a 102-minute commercial for their stores will help offset the film's production costs. Yes, it helps ground a movie in reality when it's set in a real-world location, but when on-screen mentions of a store's brand outweigh laughs by a ratio of 5:1, you've got a corporate video, not a comedy. And not a particularly good one at that.
This one's an almost criminal waste of talent and time. Don't watch.
This film is rated 14A