By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — When you watch The Watch, you realize pretty quickly that it’s as loose as a goose and as messy as an unmade bed, with dangling subplots, glaring inconsistencies, arbitrary developments, and halfhearted stabs at earnestness.
Then what makes it the guilty pleasure that it is? And why is it so much fun?
Perhaps it’s the goofy premise, never taken very seriously. Or maybe it’s just the skilled timing that uptight everyman Ben Stiller and motormouth improviser Vince Vaughn (who, let’s face it, is as much a comic writer as he is a performer)bring to the party.
Whatever it is, although its combo platter of comedy and supernatural special effects doesn’t rival that of Ghostbusters or Men in Black, it does deliver its share of much-needed and gratefully offered mid-summer chuckles.
Originally titled Neighborhood Watch, the reel-world project had its title changed as a way of disassociating from the real-world Trayvon Martin tragedy in Florida. And the connection turns out to be only tangential at best.
The Watch is actually a science fiction comedy because the aliens eventually confronted by these vigilantes are not from neighboring countries: they’re unfriendly (to say the least) extraterrestrial visitors.
And, yes, the fact that the outer-space interlopers are hiding under a Costco store -– where they can get everything they need under one roof, ba dum bum -– does turn the film into an hour-and-a-half commercial.
But so what? It’s also a funny idea.
Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade play neighbors in suburban Glenview, Ohio who, after a local overnight security guard is murdered, form a watch group mostly as an excuse to get out of the house.
But this quartet of inept volunteer crime fighters (think “The Four Stooges”) soon discover that the murder, and others that follow, have been committed by slimy reptilian aliens who are posing as localites as part of their effort to obliterate all humans because… well, because that’s what they do.
Director Akiva Shaffer, a “Saturday Night Live” writer-director whose debut feature was the forgettable Hot Rod, starts off promisingly and showcases his primary foursome of performers effectively enough, playing to their familiar strengths.
But then he lets the film get away from him in the late going when he relies far too much on cheesy special effects and laughably unconvincing action and combat, rather than character delineation and interaction, to carry the ball.
The screenplay by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg embraces silliness and vulgarity and never takes its excuse for a plot all that seriously, using it instead as a clothesline on which to hang the jokes and bits and gags and asides.
That approach works decently in a film that proceeds with a relaxed, almost casual gait. Meanwhile, Stiller and Vaughn –- and, to a lesser extent, Hill and newcomer Ayoade — are such agreeable comic presences that we’re happy to take the crazy, winking journey with them.
So we watch and we wait for the buddies in this buddy comedy to entertain us in predictably naughty and irreverent ways. And while we do that, we pretty much ignore all the bargain-basement sci-fi stuff that isn’t meant to convince anybody in or at the movie of anything anyway.
So we’ll stake out 2½ stars out of 4 for a sketchy, untidy comedy that’s funny in spite of itself.
The Watch is, in a word, watchable.