'The Watch' review: Still looking for laughs

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'The Watch'

'The Watch' (July 24, 2012)

** (out of four)

A movie called “The Watch” couldn't have worse timing.

Just because 20th Century Fox changed the film's title from “Neighborhood Watch” to “The Watch” doesn't mean the comedy about an (eventually) gun-toting neighborhood watch group plays any better a few months after the death of Trayvon Martin. Unsettling at any time, especially one week after the tragedy in Aurora, Colo., is the image of a supposedly friendly young man (played by Jonah Hill) with an extensive arsenal of deadly weapons under his bed.

Real-life horrors aside, “The Watch” feels like what might have happened if Hill, instead of crafting the much-funnier “21 Jump Street” (which likewise incorporated N.W.A's “Straight Outta Compton”) had transposed a story of wannabe cops onto “Men in Black.”

In the new film, suburban Ohio dopes played by Hill, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Richard Ayoade (director of the recommended “Submarine”) work to protect the peaceful town of Glenview after a security guard loses his life and skin during an attack at the Costco that Evan (Stiller) manages. Soon they discover an extraterrestrial suspect, who adds to their already-high stress levels brought on by Bob's (Vaughn) teenage daughter (Erin Moriarty) and Evan's creepy new neighbor (Billy Crudup).

As Evan's wife, Rosemarie DeWitt becomes the latest excellent actress to appear in a thankless role in a guy movie. Her character hopes to get pregnant—if she can just convince her husband to sleep with her.

"The Watch" looks more professional than Akiva Schaffer's previous effort, "Hot Rod," though that flop generated more, bigger laughs than found in "The Watch." Obviously the script from the co-writer of "Mr. Popper's Penguins" didn't improve nearly enough after Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg ("Superbad") overhauled it.

In 2011 the British sci-fi/comedy “Attack the Block” injected the alien invasion subgenre with some wicked language and genuinely scary creatures. “The Watch” offers a handful of chuckles, mostly from its stars riffing within the same personalities they always play. But the film’s overall effect still resembles a scene in which Bob marvels at Russian nesting dolls, trying to get a laugh out of something everyone has seen before and particularly doesn't need right now.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais

 

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