The Watch will be remembered as the movie that changed its title due to the Trayvon Martin case, and not much else. Certainly not for its ability to stimulate laughter.
This messy mix of sci-fi horror and post-Superbad raunchiness didn't make me laugh once. Not a single snicker, chortle or smile. The laughs I did hear from others at a screening made me resent the movie more. Or maybe that's just the sinking feeling of civilization eroding in my presence.
Ben Stiller grinds away more of the edge that once made him funny as Evan Trautwig, nice guy busybody of Glenview, Ohio. Evan manages the local Costco, a company that must have covered half of the movie's $70 million budget in exchange for product placement shout-outs. After a night watchman becomes a bloody clean-up case on aisle 9, Evan decides to organize a neighborhood watch task force to find the killer. Well, not really a force.
Evan finds three volunteers to join him: Bob is a blowhard without a social filter who can't resist ad-libbing lewd remarks until one clicks, so of course he's played by Vince Vaughn. Franklin (Jonah Hill) is a wannabe policeman taking his watchdog role too seriously, daring viewers to not think of Martin's killer, George Zimmerman. Someone unfunny named Richard Ayoade plays Jamarcus, a bushy-haired dweeb hoping that saving a panicked Asian knockout will lead to sex.
A couple of mutilated corpses later Evan realizes aliens are committing the murders, peeling flesh from their victims to create human disguises. That means everyone is suspect, leading to a dead-end investigation of a swingers club, since there hasn't been any other opportunity for gratuitous nudity to complement the smutty dialogue.
Realizing the premise isn't enough to fill an entire movie, director Akiva Schaffer imposes Evan and Bob's personal issues into the plot. Naturally, each situation offers the chance to discuss anything regarding genitalia, using juvenile euphemisms as punch lines. The alien invasion becomes an afterthought while the leads constantly stray off the script for improvised riffs having nowhere to go.
Schaffer shows no intention of exerting a director's authority over these proceedings, too intimidated to give the cast — especially Vaughn — the advice to tone it down. Stock gags are stretched to deadening length, and single entendres delivered as if they were golden. The Watch is depressing to endure by anyone cherishing the art of comedy, while Costco members appreciate the bulk stupidity for low, low prices.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365.