August 2, 2012

'The Watch' sloppy, predictable


---- — Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill have all displayed moments of comedic genius in their careers.

None of it is visible, however, in the sci-fi comedy “The Watch.”

Sloppy and largely predictable, the film elicits more groans than laughs and never rises above groin-level humor.

Stiller plays Evan, a bland but energetic suburban Ohio Costco manager. When Evan’s friend and employee is brutally murdered — and a snide local cop (Will Forte) does little to solve the crime — he decides to put together a neighborhood watch.

Interest is rather limited, but Evan manages to scrape together three other members, each with his own agenda: loud-mouthed Bob (Vaughn), father of a rebellious adolescent; borderline psychotic Franklin (Hill), a cop wannabe; and Jamarcus, a quirky Brit, played by Richard Ayoade of the funny English sitcom “The IT Crowd.”

The watch members don’t do much more than drink beer and joust with teenagers, until they stumble upon vicious aliens and find that only they can stop the earth’s annihilation.

There are opportunities for humor here, but “The Watch” squanders most of them and lazily settles for an endless string of unfunny genital jokes.

Ayoade gets a higher percentage of the laughs than the bigger names around him, and Rosemarie DeWitt is quite good as Evan’s exasperated wife, but both of them are supporting players and can’t overcome the mess around them.

Stiller is serviceable as the earnest straight man, while Vaughn’s familiar grown-up adolescent routine is growing thin. Hill’s character is more creepy than funny.

Originally titled “Neighborhood Watch,” but shortened after the death of Trayvon Martin, “The Watch” is directed by Akiva Schaffer, who was much more effective teaming with Andy Samberg on “Saturday Night Live’s” popular Digital Shorts.

“The Watch” is mostly crass and elicits only occasional laughs. Wait to watch it on DVD, and maybe not even then.

Rental Recommendation: The accents are a little tough to decipher, but the British aliens-vs.-street gangs flick “Attack the Block” is a lot of fun. Grade: B+.

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The Watch

Grade: C

Starring: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill

Rated: R (for some strong sexual content, including references, pervasive language and violent images)

Running time: 101 minutes