A version of this review appeared in The Age, September 13, 2012.
Even for Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg – the team who gave us Superbad and Pineapple Express – the climax of The Watch marks a new low in lazy screenwriting. Why have aliens chosen to invade Earth? “Because we're aliens,” one of them explains. “That's what we do.”
Similarly, what men do is behave badly. Extra-terrestrials apart, this is yet another comedy about a gang of bored suburban guys desperate to escape the responsibilities of adulthood. In rough accordance with the classical notion of the four temperaments, there's the jolly one (Vince Vaughn), the anxious one (Ben Stiller), the psychotic one (Jonah Hill), and the British one (Richard Ayoade from The IT Crowd), who seems happy to go along for the ride. In theory, all four actors portray concerned citizens bent on protecting their neighbourhood; in practice, The Watch resembles a panel show where ad-libbing guests compete to steer the conversation as far as possible off-course. Though the motor-mouthed Vaughn would surely win on points, Ayoade scores many of the biggest laughs: with his prim diction, tightly-buttoned collar and grin of innocent goodwill, he's the most elegant geek on the block.
It is pleasant to see a male bonding film where the men genuinely appear to enjoy each others' company. Less pleasant is the sense that this enjoyment depends on the prospect of killing something, and that “alien” has been employed yet again as a codeword for “terrorist”. The director Akiva Schaffer may have no conscious political intentions – but a montage parodying the Abu Ghraib photos walks the line between thoughtless stupidity and truly unpleasant racism.