Attack the Block (2011), The ‘Burbs (1989), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1958/1978) and throwbacks to old school “something funny’s in the water” mysteries blend into a pulpy shake of low-brow laughs and aliens-amongst-us adventure in The Watch, director Akiva Schaffer’s blokey comedy about a group of concerned citizens in an apple pie American town who form an ad-hoc neighbourhood-watch-on-wheels outfit.

The grisly demise of a Costco security guard, apparently killed by a wild animal, compels store manager/do-gooder Evan (Ben Stiller) to kick-off his latest local initiative: a “shut up crime” style toothless tiger patrol squad consisting of himself and three bumble-brains.

Bob (Vince Vaughn) is in it for beer and time away from his family; Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) fantasises about door knocking Asian booty and Franklin (Jonah Hill) is lured by the prospect of vigilantism. The team achieves little more than sitting in a car sipping beer before their Hardy Boys meets The Hangover (2009) investigations are shaken up by extraterrestrial encounters and — naturally — the discovery of a bowling ball that fires massive blue laser beams.

There were plenty of opportunities for Schaffer to take The Watch in interesting directions — as a sledge on “think of the children” moral panic, a forest-for-the-trees satire about dogged pursuit of small victories in the context of apocalypse-sized defeat or a snippy piece on DIY law enforcing and backwards thinking vigilantism.

“There were plenty of opportunities for Schaffer to take The Watch in interesting directions”

He achieves all this, however fleetingly, and none. The movie drifts about like a drunk at a museum, stumbling distractedly between interesting tangents. When it seems like The Watch has rested on a catty Stepford Wives, Burbs-esque ‘suspect thy neighbour’ sleight, which marks a shrewd turnaround from opening scenes depicting Ben Stiller’s character as a comically wholesome community player (“I don’t have a black friend yet, but I’m on the market”) it again moves somewhere different. And again, somewhere less interesting.

The story’s meandering plot lines gives it an almost audacious unpredictability (though that’s probably overstating the movie’s character) and it comes at the expensive of consistency, which impacts laughs and overall ‘tainment. The cast keep it enjoyable in a chillax-on-the-couch kind of way, nothing you’d want to spend twenty bucks and some popcorn on.

Dialogue puns regularly hit the mark and the comedic timing of the foursome — Stiller and Vince Vaughn, when they’re on, appear particularly effortless — maintain a fun vibe as the story regularly dozes off and wakes up in other places, squinting its eyes and groping in the dark for laughs.

The Watch’s Australian theatrical release date: September 13, 2012. 


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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey