Men in Black it isn’t.
When Evan’s (Stiller) co-worker is found dead, Evan responds the only way he can–by forming a Neighborhood Watch group to find the killer. Joined by high school dropout and failed police candidate Franklin (Hill), British horndog Jamarcus (Ayoade), and party-guy construction worker Bob (Vaughn) the foursome uncover an invasion plot by extra terrestrials that threatens their small Ohio town.
As a fan of the three of the four stars (I’d not heard of Ayoade before this film) I ignored the word of mouth on The Watch and gave it a try. The Vaughn/Stiller team-up led to big laughs in Dodgeball and I hoped for a similar experience here. Surely enough, neither actor strays far from their wheelhouse–how often have we seen Stiller play a neurotic, pent-up suburbanite who can’t tell his loved ones about a personal failure? And once again Vaughn is playing the carefree party-guy who both parties like a college student and yet is also a devoted family man. These actors have had huge successes playing these exact characters, and they play it safe here. It’s a smart choice–all the film’s laughs come from these two characters and their opposing view of the group.
The other two Watch members are not as amusing. Hill once again plays a somewhat socially awkward sidekick. It worked for him well in Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but it was disappointing to see him again playing the same character. All of Franklin’s dialogue has an ad-libbed feel that would work in any film Hill has appeared, and becomes less funny and more sad every time I see it. Avoade’s Jamarcus makes little impression as a British divorce. His character is important to the plot, but Avoade never escapes the shadow of his more famous co-stars.
The result is a highly uneven film. While ostensibly about an alien invasion, the first two-thirds of the film are really about these characters and their interactions. We also see Evan and Bob having trouble with the women in their lives, Evan’s marriage strained, Bob’s daughter partying too hard with a boy in school. These parts of the film are full of raunchy laughs and hard-R rated dick jokes, several of which were laugh-out-loud funny.
But when the film finally has to turn to the overarching plot it fails completely. It was a mistake to make this film about an alien invasion; the film has neither the budget nor the inclination to tell a good story about evil E.T.s. The film’s entire third act when the invasion comes to the fore is a painful exercise in banality.
Overall I give this film a mild not recommend. There are laughs to be had in this movie, but the three leads have all had bigger laughs in better films, and only Stiller and Vaughn die-hards need to Watch this for the few funny moments.