It’s too bad “The Watch” will be weighted down by real-life tragedies that the film’s makers could never have foreseen — because this silly, raunchy and comically violent movie is the sort of knockabout comedy that crumples under the pressure of real-world problems.
The movie’s problems in that area began months ago, when the movie had a different title: “Neighborhood Watch.” That title suddenly had bad connotations because of the much-publicized case of George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood-watch volunteer now facing a murder charge in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Now, in the first weekend of release after the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., in which a gunman killed 12 and injured 58 at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises,” we’re all thinking twice about the dividing line between movie violence and real-life violence.
So when we see bloodshed early on in “The Watch,” it stings more than it amuses. And when we see Jonah Hill play an overly intense neighborhood-watch member with a small arsenal of weapons under his bed, an image that was meant to draw a cheap laugh instead makes us wince.
The neighborhood-watch group in “The Watch” is made up of four guys in Glenview, Ohio, a normally peaceful suburb that’s rocked when a security guard, Antonio (Joe Nunez), is savagely killed at the local Costco. The manager of that Costco, Evan Trautwig (Ben Stiller), decides to take action and form the Neighborhood Watch — quickly recruiting the happy-go-lucky Bob (Vince Vaughn), hyper-intense Franklin (Jonah Hill) and oddball Brit Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade from the British sitcom “The IT Crowd,” a hilarious scene-stealer).
Ewan’s serious-minded pursuit of Antonio’s killer is at odds with the other guys’ idea of the Neighborhood Watch — which centers on drinking beer and hanging out in Bob’s mancave. Ewan’s Watch duties also take him away from his wife, Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt), and their efforts at having a baby.
The mood changes significantly when the Watch guys discover some clues that lead them to the conclusion that Antonio’s murderer is an extraterrestrial.
Director Akiva Schaffer, who is a partner with Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone on those “Saturday Night Live” digital shorts, doesn’t pace the story so much as open it up for his stars to riff off each other, frequently veering from the loosey-goosey script (credited to Jared Stern and the “Superbad” writing team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg). Alas, the chemistry doesn’t always jell, especially when Vaughn’s regular-guy bluster sucks all the oxygen from the room.
“The Watch” isn’t an important movie, or even a really good one. But it doesn’t deserve the cultural dissection it’s going to receive in a post-Aurora movie world.