When I first read about Akiva Schaffer's alien invasion flick “The Watch,” I got the sense that it would be similar to “Attack the Block.” That was fine with me, since I loved Joe Cornish's funny, action-packed, thriller. I figured Schaffer's film would focus more on laughs than gore, given the casting of comedic actors like Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade. What I didn't anticipate though was how much “The Watch” would dial back action sequences in favor of mediocre comedy.
The word “crude” comes to mind, as both a description of the type of humor and the quality of the writing in “The Watch.” It pains me to knock the film's scribes, considering two of them are Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. I love most of their previous collaborations, but it’s hard to excuse the overabundance of lazy penis jokes in their script. There are obvious comparisons of alien fluids to semen, as well as gags about condoms, impotence, and alien genitalia.
“The Watch” is about a small-town activist and model citizen named Evan (Stiller) from Glenville, Ohio. Evan is the manager at a local Cosco, runs several community clubs, and tries hard to befriend racially diverse people. When one of his employees is found murdered, he takes it upon himself to start yet another organization: a Neighborhood Watch. He publicly vows to help police find the killer and to apprehend any other nogoodniks along the way.
Evan’s call to action brings forward three bizarre recruits: the goofy man’s man Bob (Vaughn), the desperate basketcase Franklin (Hill), and the nerdy pervert Jamarcus (Ayoade). No one is taking the group as seriously as Evan; Bob is just looking for an excuse to hang with the guys, Franklin is trying to prove that he’s worthy of becoming a cop, and Jamarcus has an Asian housewife fantasy he’s trying to live out. Evan’s control freak nature is challenged by these free-spirited personalities, especially when the foursome discovers that hostile aliens have infiltrated their sleepy town. He must learn to play nice with others if there’s any hope for the Neighborhood Watch to stop the extraterrestrial invaders.
Because we’ve already seen Stiller, Vaughn, and Hill play similar characters, there isn’t much novelty to their performances in “The Watch.” The only comedic highpoints in the picture involve dialogue from the awkwardly charming Jamarcus, a cameo appearance from perennial hardass R. Lee Ermey, and a ridiculous montage where the gang snaps compromising photos of an alien that they’ve captured. Nothing else will give you more than a mild chuckle.
Pedestrian humor isn’t even the movie’s biggest offense. Its greater crime is that it straddles a weird middle ground between horror, action, sci-fi, and comedy without pleasing fans of any genre. The filmmakers don’t commit to enough gore or alien technology to make this a decent sci-fi/horror flick, but they don’t give you enough firepower for it to be an action comedy. Badass firefights don’t come until the final showdown with the aliens and there’s an underutilized subplot involving an alien weapon that they discover.
If you’re looking for a good alien invasion movie that also happens to be funny, I’d recommend watching “Attack the Block” instead. The London street punk accents may be a bit hard to understand, but at least that film is more definitive about what it's trying to be.