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Friday, July 27, 2012 - Page updated at 11:00 a.m.
'The Watch' is a movie you don't have to
By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic
Fearful of drawing connections to the Trayvon Martin shooting earlier this year, the studio releasing the Ben Stiller comedy "The Watch" changed its title from the original "Neighborhood Watch." Too bad they couldn't have changed a few other things, too.
Put simply, "The Watch" is the story of four none-too-swift guys (Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade) who form a neighborhood-watch group for their idyllic-looking suburb after the mysterious murder of a security guard at their local Costco. (The murder is played for laughs, as is the elaborate gun cache of one of the guys. Not very funny, particularly this week.) Eventually the guys figure out — long after we do — that they're dealing with an alien invasion and must defend their neighborhood from moist, bloodthirsty creatures who bleed green goo.
Stiller's once again playing the blank-slate, beleaguered good-guy character that's become a trademark for him, particularly in the "Night at the Museum" movies (whose director, Shawn Levy, produced "The Watch"); never mind that his behavior always seems utterly scripted, never genuine. (That might have been OK — he never seemed natural in "Zoolander," and it worked like gangbusters — but it never seems particularly funny, either.) There are moments when "The Watch" plays like a kid-friendly adventure movie, and perhaps it might have worked as one, more in the "Ghostbusters" vein. But director Akiva Schaffer and the trio of screenwriters instead fill the R-rated movie with glimpses of raunchy sex, Stiller's character's anxiety over his infertility, old men using the f-word and guys talking about their genitalia; it's as if there wasn't enough money to show us the aliens very often, so they needed to kill time.
All's not completely lost: Ayoade (writer/director of the British comedy "Submarine"), the one wildcard in the cast, is a fresh and quirky presence in his buttoned-up blazer, happily burbling his lines as if he's actually having some fun. And the film tosses out the idea, rather deliciously, that any random Saturday-afternoon shopper at Costco could be an alien from outer space, a thought that's surely occurred to a few of us. (Just watch how they handle the merchandise, as if they're not quite sure what it is.) Otherwise, "The Watch" just feels like yet another generic Hollywood product; raunchier and dumber than it needs to be, never as funny as it wants to be.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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