Uptight suburbanite Evan Troutwig (Stiller) forms a Neighbourhood Watch scheme when one of his Costco employees is murdered. While hardly attracting the cream of the local crop, his rag-tag team will have to shape up fast when they discover an alien threat to their quiet town...
When filmmakers act like mad scientists and splice together the DNA of comedy and sci-fi, the results can be mixed. Still, this mutant subgenre has given us Ghostbusters, the Men In Black movies and Tremors. Not without its own pleasures, The Watch attempts a similar synthesis of the urbane and the fantastic.
In this case, the alien invasion/paranoia plot is crossbred with the sort of occasionally gross-out-yet-heartfelt man-child business to be found across the careers of Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill. Stiller is the nervy type. Vaughn’s a slob with a heart. Hill’s the weird, angry one. Stop us if you’ve heard this before. Out they are wheeled again and we find Stiller’s Evan hiding from his issues in his quiet suburban ’hood by creating various groups, but rarely connecting with anyone. But when he starts the Neighbourhood Watch and meets Bob (Vaughn), Franklin (Hill) and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade — who brings a fun riff on his IT Crowd persona), he finally gets the chance to bond. We’re also treated to pot shots at cop action clichés, including the foursome walking along in slo-mo to gangster rap, all falling rather flat after the success of 21 Jump Street.
Lonely Island/SNL director Akiva Schaffer is tasked with marshalling the madness and, as he proved on the underrated Hot Rod, he keeps the wacky visuals from overpowering the characters. The aliens are suitably threatening when they need to be — Schaffer is helped immensely by using practical creature effects for the extra-terrestrial marauders.
Despite a script from Jared Stern re-written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, it takes a while to find a rhythm. These wannabe guardians of justice walk familiar paths, going from disrespected figures of fun to heroes as they figure out what’s really going on amidst the manicured lawns and neat houses. But as things kick into gear and the real scope of the off-world jeopardy becomes apparent, so the gag rate improves. Still, approaching nowhere near the inspired lunacy of, say, Gremlins, The Watch’s synthesis of sci-fi and comedy ultimately fails to pay homage to either.
Lacking the bite of Attack The Block, Stiller and co. are happy to fall back on their usual shtick, with director Schaffer providing barely enough juice to power the laughs.