I'm guessing there's a running theory in filmmaking that if you throw enough funny people in a movie, something funny is bound to result. And considering the sheer volume of usually talented folks involved in the making of THE WATCH (both in front of and behind the camera), on paper this movie should be the fucking end-all comedy of the decade. Alas, it is not.
From a script by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (along with contributions from Jared Stern), directed by Lonely Island member Akiva Schaffer, and starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and British scene-stealer Richard Ayoade ("The IT Crowd"), The Watch has a few big laughs, a handful of medium-size laughs, and a few chuckles, but honestly, this thing should have been so much better.
The problems are many. First off, the script is flimsy, focusing on a group of guys in the community forming a neighborhood watch group after a security guard at the local Costco (managed by Stiller's character) is brutally murdered in the overnight hours. I don't think at this point I'm spoiling anything by mentioning that there's an alien-invasion angle to this material, and once that is fully revealed and explored, we basically get a group of grown men acting like brain-damaged children.
The performances don't help as nearly all of the actors play a variation of their go-to personas. Stiller is neurotic, controlling and substitutes actual friendships for starting up neighborhood clubs. Vaughn is a motor mouth, who sees the neighborhood watch as an excuse to hang out with local dudes and drink beer in his man-cave. Even Ayoade, who might be the most consistently funny performer in the movie, is playing the lovable nerd he played so well in "The IT Crowd."
Jonah Hill is the only actor playing a character, but even then, he's essentially playing a variation of Seth Rogen character in OBSERVE AND REPORT, a guy who failed to get in the police academy, has a stash of guns, and has only joined up to kick ass. Hill gets off some of the best improv lines, but it feels like he's filling in the blanks on a weak screenplay. Will Forte is on hand as a local cop who hates the neighborhood watch guys because they think they are somehow members of law enforcement.
THE WATCH isn't unwatchable; far from it. This cast makes it easy to kick back and just let the plot unfold in fairly standard ways. There's some nice creature suit work from Doug Jones, and it's tough to complain too much whenever R. Lee Ermey gets to wield a shotgun and curse, but there were particular characters and subplots in this movie that bored me almost from the first frame. There's a storyline about Stiller being unable to get his wife (Rosemarie Dewitt) pregnant, and I still don't understand why any of that was in this movie. At least the subplot about Vaughn's teenage daughter getting physical with her boyfriend has a solid payoff, but until it gets there, those scenes feel really pervy.
I didn't do a joke count on THE WATCH, but the jokes-per-minute rate was pretty low, and I found it almost troubling how few times Ben Stiller even gets to be funny. He's painted as the heavy, intense beige character whose hangups aren't playing for laughs. Nothing says funny like being infertile, I guess. I wish I had more to say about this collection of comic actors I really like to varying degrees, but the cricket noises in the theater will probably say it all. THE WATCH feels like filler material, beefed up with improv that's taking the place of an actual script. That's too bad because I genuinely like the concept, but this one simply doesn't cut it.