Ben Stiller has enjoyed a fruitful career playing the same character in nearly every movie.
By JON NICCUM
Special to The Star
Whether its Tower Heist, Night at the Museum or Mystery Men, he delivers a slightly agitated but well-meaning hero. A pragmatic idealist frustrated by the failings of himself and others. An underachieving overachiever.
But Stiller is quite proficient at this character. As with many of his prior efforts, in The Watch he provides the glue that holds all the weird and wacky happenings together.
The film is ostensibly a sci-fi comedy thriller, but its really an excuse for Stiller and his funny pals to riff off one another. The stars improv-heavy camaraderie works better than the flicks more blockbustery action bits.
Stiller portrays Evan, a Costco manager in the suburban haven of Glenview, Ohio. Hes a busy guy who serves on the city council and organizes various clubs in an attempt to connect with his fellow residents. And hes very proud of the fact that some of these people are actual minorities.
When a night watchman suffers a graphic demise at his store, Evan takes it upon himself to find the murderer and ensure the communitys safety. So he organizes a neighborhood watch (the films original title before the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida compelled 20th Century Fox to alter it).
Evan hopes to recruit a task force of concerned citizens, yet only three oddballs respond to his flier. Bob (Vince Vaughn) is a wealthy loudmouth easily distracted by mundane trinkets and dedicated to keeping his teenage daughter chaste. Franklin (Jonah Hill) is a failed police recruit who cant wait to commit violent crimes en route to stopping violent crimes. And recently divorced Brit Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade) displays genuine politeness to accompany his passive disconnect to reality.
Individually, theyre quirky. Together, theyre sincerely dysfunctional. Thus, when they uncover an alien invasion that threatens to destroy Glenview, it proves much more difficult to thwart.
When discovering the only clue at a victims murder site is a sticky green ooze, Franklin asks, Had he just won a Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award?
Director Akiva Schaffer (best known for his digital shorts on Saturday Night Live) is buoyed by a lively, raunchy script from writers Jared Stern, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. The ratio is about 70 percent humor, 20 percent action and 10 percent horror.
The story never rises to the comedic level of Men in Black or Galaxy Quest, other enterprising pictures that blend science fiction and comedy. Thats mainly because the plot isnt as important as just letting the leads interact. Whether sitting in a car during a stakeout or hanging around Bobs garish man cave, the actors always capitalize on their shared chemistry.
While Stiller, Vaughn and Hill play to their customary strengths, the real casting revelation is Ayoade (pronounced eye-oh-WA-dee), a towering British TV comedian with a trademark fuzzy hairstyle and thick-rimmed glasses. The Watch offers a breakout role in much the same way The Hangover did for Zach Galifianakis. Ayoades ill-suited introductory speech at the first neighborhood watch gathering marks the movies comedic high point.
Inevitably, the film starts leaking mojo once the action takes precedence over the humor. The Watch decays into a CGI-encumbered battle that is both overly familiar and not especially thrilling. The reliable Stiller and company can be only so amusing when theyre forced to fire guns at a green screen, while visual-effects technicians fill in the blanks months later.