Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Watch / *** (R)

Evan: Ben Stiller
Bob: Vince Vaughn
Franklin: Jonah Hill
Jamarcus: Richard Ayoade
Abby: Rosemarie DeWitt
Sgt. Bressman: Will Forte
Creepy Neighbor: Billy Crudup

20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Akiva Schaffer. Written by Jared Stern and Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg. Running time: 101 min. Rated R (for some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language and violent images).

When you see enough movies, you begin to wonder about the details of their plots. Aliens have been invading the Earth cinematically for well over a century by now. They always seem to be pretty hard to kill; yet there’s always a weakness. Sometimes that weakness has to do with their social structure. If you can infect one of them, the entire race might fall. Sometimes you can just blast them to hell, as long as their blood doesn’t get all over you and burn your face off. What if their weakness were a little simpler than that? What if just shooting off their genitals got the job done?

When it comes down to it, that’s really all the new comedy “The Watch” is about. It’s about blowing some alien balls off. Despite the utter pointless silliness behind such a premise, if you can accept that, then “The Watch” delivers on everything it promises.

Sure, there are a hell of a lot more details that go into delivering this purely juvenile concept. First and foremost of those details is what types of people it takes to blow those balls off. It doesn’t take Sigourney Weaver, that’s for sure. In this case, four idiots will do. The lead idiot is Evan (Ben Stiller, “Little Fockers”), a manager of a Costco who fills the empty spaces in his life by creating community clubs, like the Running Club. He’s helped by Bob (Vince Vaughn, “The Dilemma”), a father who’s having trouble connecting with his teenaged daughter. Franklin (Jonah Hill, “21 Jump Street”) is a high school drop out, who still lives with his mother and holds a grudge against the local police department because they denied his application after he failed his field exam, his written exam, and his psychological exam. Finally, there’s Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade, “The IT Crowd”), a British bloke who sees just about everything as a gateway to a sexual experience. You get the impression he’s a virgin.

After a security guard is killed on the night shift at the Costco, Evan decides he needs to form a neighborhood watch. The other three guys are the only people willing to volunteer their time. After hitting something that leaves green blood on their car and the discovery of a devise that can destroy anything it is pointed at, the watch decides that the security guard’s death is actually the result of an alien invasion rather than plain old boring murder. What everybody else in their lives has trouble accepting is the fact that they might actually be right.

There are some other particulars thrown in there to pass the time. Evan’s wife, Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt, “Your Sister’s Sister”), is trying desperately to get pregnant. This places added pressure on Evan and a few compromising positions. And, the local constabulary is more interested in mocking the neighborhood watch than listening to their crazy theories. Will Forte, as police Sgt. Bressman, is in typical SNL absurd character mode here, providing some of the film’s funniest bits.

Directed by Akiva Schaffer and written by Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg (“Superbad”, “Pineapple Express”), “The Watch” is pure juvenile silliness. The jokes center on sex and grown men acting like children. There’s a hilarious scene when the guys actually capture one of the aliens. Thinking they’ve killed him they proceed to subject the corpse to typical frat house behavior. They take pictures of it in compromising positions. They make out with it. I’m sure there’s a “Weekend at Bernie’s” reference in there somewhere.

Shaffer rose up through the SNL ranks as a third of the musical and sketch comedy group The Lonely Island, the team responsible for the popular SNL Digital Shorts. The film’s story is thematically similar to one of the songs on their debut album “Incredibad”. I was happy not to have to witness a three-way with an alien, however. Look for the cameo by the entire Lonely Island crew during the orgy scene.

This is the type of movie that is hard for critics to recommend. There are no redeemable qualities to be found in the content of the movie. It did, however, make me laugh. I laughed in spite of myself as the characters spoofed the movie cliché of the undead villain when they keep shooting an alien body over and over again to be sure it won’t get up again once they turn their backs on it. Vince Vaughn in particular is a master at delivering a character who offers little to value and yet you still like him. That’s how the movie works. It’s hard to defend its content, but gosh darn it if I didn’t have fun watching its silliness.

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