The Watch

There goes the 'neighborhood'— A silly little flick collides with the news

Aug 1, 2012 at 12:00 am

The Watch | C

In this economy, even alien invasions are subject to downsizing, and in recent years we've seen extraterrestrials outsmarted by a runty London street gang (Attack the Block), cowpokes (Cowboys and Aliens), '70s middle school kids (Super 8), and most ridiculously, by a drunk Mel Gibson with a baseball bat and a glass of water (Signs). 

The Watch represents a particularly feeble invasion attempt by a species of rubbery, purple-skinned, drooling bipeds that have mastered interstellar flight, but not the art of wearing pants. Their big plan involves building a CB radio antenna in the basement of a big box retailer in central Ohio. Mankind's last best hope against this not-so-dreadful threat is a squad of suburban goofballs played by comedians content to rehash a greatest hits package of their more obnoxious onscreen personas. 

Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill and Vince Vaughn make a fairly effective unit, playing, respectively, a fussbudget, a man-child and a blowhard, all default comedy settings for these actors. They are joined by snarky Brit Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd), who adds understated nerdy irony to the toxic mix of overheated male egos on display.

As Stiller's oft-ignored wife, the lovely Rosemarie Dewitt tries to balance out the testosterone, but the flick is soaking in the stuff.

The sporadically witty, filth-laden script, co-written by Seth Rogen, is especially fixated on phallic issues, oral sex, oversized condoms, performance problems, and even goes as far as making a dick joke into a plot point: the monsters' weakness is in their crotch. The fusion of high concept and lowbrow humor is initially amusing, but becomes unwieldy as the movie shifts into action mode and the explosions threaten to overwhelm the laugh lines. 

This crew of sex-obsessed middle-aged dweebs is funnier when simply hanging out in their man-cave headquarters, breaking up a rowdy teenage beer bash or harassing snotty skateboarders than they are dealing with sci-fi shenanigans. 

The studio got skittish, and dropped the word "neighborhood" from the title in the wake of the heated Trayvon Martin controversy, though this silly film bears little resemblance to that sad debacle. Still the trigger-happy antics of a gang of half-cocked, gun-toting vigilantes is not nearly so amusing anymore in the light of recent tragedies, though that is far from the only problem here. The Watch is a just OK attempt to replicate some of the old Ghostbusters action-comedy magic, though these rude dudes are not likely to be "who you gonna call."