Mainstream movies continue to play around in the science fiction sandbox: Following the double-header of rom-coms Safety Not Guaranteed and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, we now get to see Jonah Hill, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Richard Ayoade in the foulmouthed suburban comedy The Watch. Each actor plays his usual shtick, but what sets this collaboration apart from similar films is that the hothead, the community leader, the middle-aged frat boy, and the weirdo (respectively) are facing off against aliens who want to destroy Earth. While still making plenty of dick jokes.
What’s notable is that it wasn’t until the shocking death of Trayvon Martin earlier this year that we even knew that this movie could be classified as sci-fi: After volunteer neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman shot teenager Martin in February, the studio quickly changed their title from Neighborhood Watch to The Watch and TV spots suddenly pushed the alien angle.
The movie has an excellent pedigree, so it’s disappointing when it doesn’t quite rise to its full potential: The Lonely Island’s Akiva Schaffer directs a script from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who wrote Superbad. You definitely get that vibe as you watch the four guys, who don’t quite fit into their respective lives, slowly bond over becoming neighborhood protectors. When they stumble across a mysterious alien weapon—which is, of course, a giant ball—and when a local Costco security guard winds up mauled by an unknown creature, the Neighborhood Watch are the only ones who can stop the alien invasion.
But because they’re already viewed as such a joke, they can’t even think of breathing the A-word to their families or the authorities. It’s this angle that makes The Watch a welcome change from recent space-centric releases: in Prometheus or Lockout, every character accepts the impossible premise from the getgo. Here, it’s four losers you wouldn’t trust to save your cat from a tree, against an entire alien race that’s bigger, faster, and can disguise themselves as any of your seemingly pleasant neighbors.
If anything, The Watch makes you realize how much you miss the wacky alien invasion movie. It’s been 16 years since Independence Day, and we’re still a few years off from the rumored sequels. But seeing this movie, you remember the absurd fun of Will Smith with a cigar and a stolen alien spacecraft. Of course, the language here is a lot filthier than the classic line “Up yours!”, but the same spirit is there.
You forget that the movie is a hard R until you get to scenes like the guys debating whether some mysterious alien goo resembles a certain bodily fluid, or Jonah Hill deadpanning how far he’d go to seduce a potential alien, or The Lonely Island’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo at a neighborhood party. (Part of what makes the movie watchable is several cameos from a variety of genre actors.) But this brand of humor fits, especially in the uproarious photoshoot sequence where the guys dick around with their dead alien captive. (It’s like if the kids from E.T. were thirty years older and wasted.)
Ultimately, however, The Watch is something you’ll enjoy while you’re watching it, and then immediately forget about. The alien element elevates it over other recent comedies, sure, but it wouldn’t hold up under multiple viewings. There are alien movies that require the whole interactive theater experience, and this is not necessarily one. More like, it’s the kind of flick you’d watch after settling back on the couch with a six-pack and some friends who appreciate watching Jonah Hill and Vince Vaughn play off each other’s tendency to just go apeshit on the rest of their co-stars. But now you’ve introduced aliens into the mix, and maybe after this you can convince them to pop in Prometheus, you sneaky bastard.
Natalie Zutter is a playwright, foodie, and the co-creator of Leftovers, a webcomic about food trucks in the zombie apocalypse. She’s currently the Associate Editor at Crushable, where she discusses movies, celebrity culture, and internet memes. You can find her on Twitter.