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Review: 'The Watch' goes below the gut for laughs

In this R-rated comedy, ordinary guys form a suburban neighborhood watch after a killing at a Costco and they soon discover space aliens are involved. Many of the jokes are centered below the belt (literally), but many of the scenes are pretty funny.

July 26, 2012|By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic

Let's just put it right out there: Never in the history of mankind has a movie been more phallic-ly fixated than "The Watch."This R-rated Freudian foolishness stars some of the usual suspects known to traffic in prurient puns — Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill. The very funny Richard Ayoade, representing the more restrained British point of view on things of a sexual nature, completes the film's foursome. Some of the phallic jokes work, others are really lame. Fortunately there are many other funny bits that have nothing to do with body parts that keep the laughs coming.

Theoretically, this is a story about some ordinary guys who form a neighborhood watch in lovely little Glenview, Ohio, after a killing at a Costco confounds the local cops (a funny Will Forte and a grunting Mel Rodriguez). They soon discover aliens from outer space are involved. Major stakeouts and smack-downs follow, along with a huge fashion fiasco involving tiger logos and satin jackets.

There are some clever big-box store jokes, which anyone who has been to a Costco will appreciate. There are a few alien zingers, including one funny photo session. But really, those are just Trojan horses (and yes, the other kind of Trojans factor in too). The real comic assault comes from an unending string of below-the-belt riffs.

It's as if someone challenged "Superbad" funny guy Seth Rogen, who wrote the script with Jared Stern and Evan Goldberg, to see if he could slip in every slang term for that private part ever conceived, along with every way in which it can be used and abused. Who knew it was possible for a movie's very plot to hang on the male member? But that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what the writers have done. No stone is left unturned.

The film is directed by Akiva Schaffer, who is mostly known for a long run directing (and writing) "Saturday Night Live"(unless you consider 2007's "Hot Rod" starring "SNL" vet Andy Samberg a seminal film, which I don't). That actually explains a lot about the woes of "The Watch." Many of the individual sketches are very funny, in that dumb-dudes-doing-dumb-things kind of way. It's the transitions where things tend to fall apart. (And there is at least one glaring continuity gaff. It involves Vaughn's Bob getting bloodied in a fight only to turn up two seconds later totally untouched; no bruises or busted nose in sight.)

Evan (Stiller) is the main instigator of all the action, with the actor doing his typical uptight everyman shtick. A manager at the Costco, his civic pride is off the charts. He leads a running club and a Spanish club, anything so he won't have to have s-e-x with wife Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt). She wants a baby, and he can't. I don't mean he "can't," or doesn't want a baby. He does. It's his "guys" that are the problem — they don't count, don't pack a punch, can't seal the deal.... I won't go on, but they will, relying on classic Vaughn mumblecore to handle the bit, which makes it funnier than by rights it should be.

Abby doesn't know anything except that making love seems to be off the table, although there's a pretty funny scene when she tries to put it back on the table. Wink, wink.

When the Costco night guard is murdered and the cops don't have a clue, Evan decides to start a neighborhood watch. Lots of fliers are posted, but only three guys show up for the first meeting. There is Bob, with his killer man cave and problem teenage daughter Chelsea (Erin Moriarty) — boyfriend Jason (Nicholas Braun) being the main problem. Franklin (Jonah Hill) is a fatigue-wearing police force reject who couldn't clear the psych exam. He will be in charge of any weaponry, of course. And finally Jamarcus (Ayoade) shows up. He's newly divorced and hoping that there might be a desperate housewife he could assist.

The guys start patrolling, when they're not hanging out doing male-bonding stuff in Bob's man cave. They have a lot of close encounters with the cops. There are other close encounters with the aliens. There are conflicts with one another. Pop culture references abound too, a running gag about NickelodeonKids' Choice Awards-like green slime most prominently.

The funniest stuff comes from the kind of situational misfires that can happen when dudes try to do things, like catch aliens, that they are clearly not cut out to do. But really it's all about the you-know-what. Oh, and when it comes to the big reveal of the intergalactic invaders' major weakness — a psychiatrist could have a field day with that one.

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betsy.sharkey@latimes.com

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