The Watch

Fri, Aug 24, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Akiva Schaffer. Starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, Rosemarie DeWitt 15A cert, gen release, 102 min

THIS IS, you may remember, the film that, following the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida, was forced to drop the word “neighbourhood” from the front end of its title. On balance, we don’t like to see films being suppressed in such circumstances. It would not, however, have been the end of the world if The Watch had been flushed down the nearest sewer. There’s nothing particularly offensive about the piece. But its intergalactic badness does take the breath away.

What we have here is an unofficial remake of Joe Dante’s mildly diverting 1989 comedy, The ’Burbs. Ben Stiller plays an anal supermarket manager who, after seeing one of his employees murdered, sets out to establish a neighbourhood watch scheme.

He is joined in his endeavours by non-characters played by Jonah Hill (no surprise), Vince Vaughn (you saw that coming) and Richard Ayoade (what now?). Before too long, they realise that the neighbourhood is being infiltrated by aliens and (keeping it to themselves for some barely explained reason) set out to save the planet block by block.

One doesn’t expect characterisation to the standards of Anna Karenina in a film that features this much Bachman-Turner Overdrive on the soundtrack. But really. These creations don’t even earn the right to their own adjectival monosyllable. I suppose Vaughn is crass, but then Hill is too. Ayoade might qualify as weird, but Stiller isn’t exactly normal. They are just vehicles for a series of wretched conversational riffs that start nowhere and end up somewhere even less precisely defined.

At some point in the film’s slack middle section, during an outbreak of misguided bathos, we learn that Stiller’s character is unable to have children. Since the revelation is coming from somebody we can’t even begin to know, the effect is somewhat less than devastating.

It all ends in a ghastly mess of nauseating sentimentality, bad special effects and overly neat tying up of narrative loose ends. Don’t watch.