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Movie Review: “The Watch”

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“The Watch” is a bottom-feeding, going-through-the-motions “comedy,” full of every tiresome cliche you can imagine and not particularly well-acted or directed. Other than a minor chuckle or two, it’s not funny, either.

The film’s bare-bones high concept is that a group of square suburbanites (Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade)  in reaction to a murder, decide to form a neighborhood watch- and end up fighting off an alien invasion.

There was another movie last year called “Attack the Block,” about a bunch of kids at a London housing project who repel an invasion from extraterrestrials. I didn’t love the film as much as some people did, but it did bring a certain degree of creativity and originality to a familiar plot, and especially the design of the creatures.

“The Watch” is like “Attack the Block,” only American, higher-budgeted, and just all-around terrible.

The movie was directed by Akiva Schaffer- best known as one of the guys in Lonely Island who isn’t Andy Samberg- although its combination of mediocre comedy and even worse sci-fi strongly bears the fingerprints of Shawn Levy, the “Night at the Museum” mastermind who is listed as the producer. The team behind the film does an especially poor job with the effects- the aliens, mostly rendered using puppets, are underwhelming, to say the least.

Vaughn and Stiller are just sleepwalking, playing dialed-down, subdued versions of their usual screen personas. Hill is better, playing a variation on Seth Rogen’s character in “Observe and Report” -Rogen is one of three credited screenwriters- although the movie keeps forgetting that he’s supposed to be a sociopath. Ayoade, best known from The IT Crowd, is a lone bright spot, while the supporting cast is headlined by Will Forte, not doing anything particularly funny as a local cop, who comes complete with a mute partner who’s a dead ringer for Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid.

But even worse than the acting is the script and direction. “The Watch” is just full of familiar, bad-movie cliches, from unhip white guys walking in slo-mo to gangsta rap to blindingly obvious music cues to an R. Lee Ermey cameo in which he waves a shotgun and yells.

This is also one of those movies that really, really wants to be R-rated, but because the violence and nudity don’t quite get it there, the script makes up for it with non-stop raunchy dialogue, most of which isn’t all that funny. Meanwhile, the big plot twist is obvious about ten minutes in.

The movie is full of running jokes that either never pay off or do so unsatisfactorily. There are three scenes in a row in which Stiller refuses the offer of a drink- was there an alcoholism subplot that got dropped or something? It’s never mentioned again. And the less said about the subplot about Vaughn trying to protect his daughter’s virginity, the better.

“The Watch” was going to be called “Neighborhood Watch,” before the Trayvon Martin shooting brought that particular sort of institution into disrepute. Now that I’ve seen the film, it’s clear that the name change is the only thing anyone will ever remember about it.

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