The Watch, a passing mess of a comedy about four mismatched guys who form a patrol in their suburban Ohio neighborhood following a weird killing in the local Costco, flails around with the desperation of a victim slowly bleeding out. Which, in a way, is what this casualty of the biz and current events has been left to do: The movie was conceived some years ago as a kind of PG-13 Ghostbusters for teens (no spoiler: the killer is a gooey alien). Then it was rejiggered for a more adult audience with R-rated script contributions from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. And then it was re-tweaked to keep the emphasis on the kid-friendly alien goo and away from associations with the fatal shooting of a Florida teen by a citizen patrolling his community this past February.
What’s left on the screen is a manic, patched-together caper starring Ben Stiller as Evan (the exasperated, controlling, uptight guy), Vince Vaughn as Bob (the loud, uncouth, slobby guy), Jonah Hill as Franklin (the vaguely menacing, angry guy) and Richard Ayoade as Jamarcus (the who’s he? British guy best known for the British cult-comedy TV show The IT Crowd). Each has his reasons for joining the neighborhood watch, none except Evan having much to do with catching a killer. Bob, for instance, just wants to hang with other dudes and drink beer. Franklin, who lives at home, is permanently steamed because he was rejected from the local police academy — a wan nod, let’s figure, to Hill’s recent triumph in 21 Jump Street.
The four men squabble, they mess up, they get slapsticky, they fight aliens, they learn life lessons. Bob improves his relationship with his teenage daughter (Erin Moriarty). Evan confronts intertwined problems of infertility and honesty (huh?) with his wife, played by the lovely Rosemary Dewitt with, let’s figure, the full knowledge that she is so in the wrong comedy-plus-aliens-plus-fertility-issues movie. Director Akiva Schaffer, excellent when directing and co-writing SNL Digital Shorts, has his hands full just trying to attach one ill-fitting scene to another, with little opportunity to establish a coherent style or, for that matter, a coherent shot list.
In the end, by the way, the guys bond. They’re united by their shared experience eradicating PG-13-rated aliens, true. But as The Watch emphasizes over and over again in happy-dirty guy talk that borders on obsession, these neighborhood watchmen are primarily united by their R-rated equipment. Their penises. And by the wondrous stuff those genitals are capable of, alone or in the company of others. If this amateur justice league spent as much time analyzing clues as they did analyzing their junk, in every slang variation available in the Urban Dictionary, the murder mystery in The Watch could have been solved on the first night of surveillance. C-