Originally called ‘Neighbourhood Watch’, The Watch was re-titled after the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin by an armed volunteer.
Yet despite the studio’s desire to avoid controversy, this alien-invasion comedy can’t help but say something about confused US attitudes to gun crime.
Ben Stiller plays Evan, boss of the local Costco. When the store’s security guard is killed in gungey circumstances, Evan sets up a neighbourhood watch to investigate.
His recruits are loudmouth Bob (Vince Vaughn), divorced Brit Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) and police-force reject Franklin (Jonah Hill).
Much to Evan’s irritation, his team are more interested in male bonding than alien ass-kicking, as is the dialogue-heavy script. Co-written by Superbad ’s Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, it’s an embarrassment of jizz jokes that enables comedy chemistry between Vaughn and Hill.
But Ayoade is the real success. Brit-com imports in US movies often feel like an anglophile whim too far, but with nerdy aplomb, Ayoade fits in by not fitting in at all.
When he gets his gun-totin’ slo-mo moment, you’ll feel a swell of patriotic pride.
Less effort has gone into a plot borrowed from Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers and the aliens are so lazily realised, the writers felt the need to take a pre-emptive pot-shot at their own lack of invention: “Had he just won a Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award?” asks a character of one gooey green corpse.
The other targets are officious morons and the gun laws that arm them, yet The Watch culminates in a bullet orgy.
Where’s the line drawn between civic responsibility and bigoted vigilantism? Don’t ask the makers of The Watch. They clearly have no idea.