There's trouble brewing in peaceful Glenview, Ohio. That's why four civic-minded citizens, armed with flashlights, walkie-talkies and spiffy new jackets, have teamed up to safeguard their community. But the guys find more than they bargained for when they uncover an alien plot to destroy Earth, and now these bumbling heroes are Glenview's only chance to save the neighborhood - and the world - from annihilation!
As the advances in CGI special effects have continued to keep action-movie audiences roaring for bigger and better displays of digital bombast, a trend in Hollywood comedies has upped the ante in a parallel way. Raunchy, risqué, and just plain filthy humor is standard fare for audiences who like their vulgar laughs as much as their superheroic explosions. The two worlds collide in The Watch, a dirty shoot-'em-up whose comic core counters the extreme sci-fi story of an alien race that can't take a joke. Fortunately, the decidedly non-superhuman heroes battle it out with equal parts punches and punch lines. The first-rate cast is headed by Ben Stiller, who has plenty of experience with filthy humor and big-budget action. He also has the movie-star charisma to bring high concept down to the toilet or the gutter, whichever happens to be funnier. Stiller plays Evan, the upstanding, uptight manager of an Ohio Costco who starts to really care about crime after one of his security guards is brutally murdered. The police can't really be bothered (Will Forte is excellent as a pompous local lawman), so Evan starts a neighborhood watch as a way to take back the night. Unfortunately his recruits turn out to be a less than vigilant vigilante group, with Vince Vaughn as a brawny motor mouth obsessed with protecting his teen daughter, Jonah Hill as an off-kilter arms expert who was rejected by the police academy (for good reason), and the indeterminately ethnic Richard Ayoade (excellent, as he was in the British sitcom The IT Crowd), who's focused only on the kind of action that involves sex and females. The quartet's individual issues are played at maximum laugh-per-minute volume and remain part of the story even after the team realizes their crime problem isn't from the inner city, it's from outer space. Turns out a hive of aliens have commandeered Evan's Costco as a base of operations to dominate humanity. After all, what better place to stage an Earth takeover than a place that has everything? (Costco should get a big-box good sport award for signing off on such wall-to-wall product placement.) The script by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg (the latter two's brilliant writing career also includes Superbad and The Pineapple Express) is chock-a-block with jokes that touch the penis in nearly every way imaginable. Think masturbation, think Magnum condoms, think vibrant or fruitless bodily fluids and you'll be thinking like the obsessive lugs in The Watch. And it's not just human penises that are made the butt of most of the jokes. In one of many playful plot contrivances, the aliens' genitals become cause for out-of-this-world vulgarity. Apparently Hollywood man-children aren't the only beings in the universe who don't think with their heads. These aliens have a very peculiar Achilles' heel. Here's a hint: it's also nowhere near their feet. And even though this soft spot is their brain, it's not inside their skull. The phallic jokes never let up, but at least most of them are funny. The Watch tries so hard for nonstop laughs that it can't help but yield a high rate of success, especially when the material is worked by such an estimable ensemble of comedy pros. It's clear that director Akiva Schaffer fostered a strong improv vibe on the set (his background is directing shorts on SNL). He's best at capturing a spontaneous sketch-comedy tone that drives the constant one-upsmanship between the filthy, shocking shenanigans of the four leads. They get ample help from the supporting cast. In addition to Will Forte as the disinterested cop, Rosemary DeWitt is terrific as Evan's demanding wife. And in an extended, uncredited cameo Billy Crudup plays the weirdest, most enigmatic creepy-insinuation-guy ever. Talk about hiding a dirty secret! There's an overall hit-or-miss quality of comedy and action in The Watch, though there are plenty more tick marks in the hit column. It's all bad-mannered good fun with the badge of a hard-R rating worn as proudly as a giant splooge of green alien slime. --Ted Fry