‘The Watch’ puts suburbia under alien siege in light comedy
‘The Watch’ puts suburbia under alien siege in light comedy

If “The Watch” is going to remind you of any other movie it’s going to be “Ghostbusters.” Both are high-concept comedies that combine laughs with thrills and a ton of special effects.

They also feature a quartet of quirky, oddly-matched heroes who must save the planet from an otherworldly force.

Sadly, “The Watch” never quite matches up with the comedic perfection of “Ghostbusters” in spite of clearly modeling itself after the Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd classic.

Even so, it is a funny little summertime distraction that earns some big R-rated laughs along the way.

Our four heroes in question are played by Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Ernie Hudson, er, I mean Richard Ayoade.

These average Joes are all members of a sleepy suburban community in Ohio. Stiller plays Evan, the manager of a Costco where a night watchman is brutally murdered.

Evan establishes a neighborhood watch to help catch the killer but instead discovers along with his three cohorts that their town is at the vanguard of an alien invasion.

Stiller and Vaughn both play to their strengths here as Evan is tightly-wound and bubbling with a quiet rage while Vaughn’s character Bob is fast-talking and gregarious, or basically Vince Vaughn in every movie he’s ever been in. I happen to think Vaughn is hilarious, so I have no problem seeing him get typecast.

Impressively venturing out of his comfort zone and playing against type is Hill, whose character, Franklin, is an emotionally unstable police force washout who has probably seen one too many Charles Bronson movies.

Don’t look now, but with an Oscar nomination under his belt and some legitimate box office hits like “Superbad” and “21 Jump Street” to his credit, Hill is quickly climbing to the top of the shortlist of greatest comedic actors of his generation.

Ayoade is pretty much unknown to American audiences, but this British comedian more than holds his own with these Hollywood heavyweights and comes across as a bit of a poor man’s Jemaine Clement (read: funny hair, big glasses, killer dry comedic timing).

There are a couple of nice supporting turns as well from Wil Forte as an incompetent local cop and Rosemarie DeWitt as Evan’s frustrated and overlooked wife.

“The Watch” was directed by Akiva Schaffer, who is best known for directing the vast majority of the Digital Shorts on “Saturday Night Live.” If you’ve seen any of those, you know that Schaffer has an eye for absurdity, but he also does a nifty job of handling all the film’s sci-fi action.

At the very least, Schaffer knows when to stay out of his actors’ way and let them do what they do best.

My biggest beef with “The Watch” is that it feels a little underwritten. Not enough work goes into really selling the alien invasion and character motivation gets a little fuzzy as the movie goes on.

The focus winds up being more on the jokes than on the insanity of the situation, which leaves a lot on the table. Still, I laughed the whole way through the thing, so that has to count for something.

Ultimately, “The Watch” is a good time even if the neighborhood watch isn’t going to top your list of possible answers to the question “who you gonna call?”

“The Watch” is rated R for some strong sexual content including references, pervasive language, and violent images.

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