Good Junk

'The Watch' is a half-assed effort, but Stiller, Vaughn and Hill create some chuckles

I was excited for The Watch, a comedy starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill, simply because I love each of those guys. But I started to get a little worried when I saw the confusing ad campaign, which didn't acknowledge the fact that The Watch is an alien-invasion movie.

Aliens finally made it into the ads after the Trayvon Martin case made neighborhood watches a bad subject. In fact, the film was originally called Neighborhood Watch, with Fox demanding the name change due to current events.

The other thing that had me excited about this is that it was co-written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the guys who wrote Pineapple Express, a film near and dear to my heart. I liked the idea of them tackling sci-fi comedy. I envisioned Ghostbusters with aliens and a lot of curse words.

The result is a total piece of junk that is, I must admit, sufficiently entertaining because of the actors involved. Stiller, Vaughn, Hill and British television star Richard Ayoade all get a decent share of laughs in a movie that doesn't ever really find its groove.

Much of the blame for this film must fall on director Akiva Schaffer, whose previous effort was the Andy Samberg misfire Hot Rod. Schaffer does a good-enough job of drawing funny moments from his ensemble, but the alien-invasion element feels like an afterthought more than the driving force of the plot. It almost seems as if the filmmakers started out making an alien-invasion movie, got scared, and decided to focus on dick jokes.

Granted, the dick jokes are often funny. I laughed loud more than a few times. Vaughn is doing his fast-talking asshole shtick, and I enjoy him in this mode. His character's dealings with his rebellious daughter are a nasty highlight.

Stiller, basically playing the straight man, still gets a few moments to shine. His Evan is a manager at Costco, where one of his employees turns up mysteriously dead. Evan's speech to a hometown football crowd, an impassioned attempt to recruit people for a neighborhood watch, is a riot. I am a big fan of Stiller when he does the whole "really passionate but not quite sure how to say what he's thinking" thing.

Hill goes against type, playing a character reminiscent of Rogen's own psycho-cop wannabe in Observe and Report. This isn't the funniest Hill has ever been, but he still contributes laughs. As for Ayoade, he truly shines in the film's odd orgy scene.

There's also Will Forte as a jerk cop, and he gets the film's funniest moment during the explosive finale. Billy Crudup takes a rare comedic turn as a creepy neighbor who likes Evan's skin a little too much.

As for the aliens, they are pretty cool-looking in their few minutes on screen. The film only had a $68 million budget, and that just doesn't cut it these days when it comes to the special-effects movie. Perhaps if Fox had thrown a little more money at this thing (and with this cast, you would think they'd have a little more confidence in the project), they might have had something that felt a little more complete. As it stands, The Watch feels a little half-assed.

The film is already a certified bomb with the public and the critics. The Watch is one of those movies that I feel a little embarrassed to admit that I sort of liked. In one way, I see it as a colossal failure. In another way, I have to admit it made me chuckle a lot despite its shortcomings.

The Watch had the makings of a great movie, but winds up something significantly short of that. I'm giving it a pass because it made me laugh, but I'm thinking most folks will hate it with a passion. What can I say? Sometimes a bad movie can be fun.

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