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MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Watch’ men keep audiences entertained despite subpar plot

The Watch (R)

2 1/2 out of 4 stars

The second movie in as many weeks to be connected in some way to a real-life tragedy, "The Watch" gained its notoriety (or infamy) because of the Trayvon Martin incident. Up until Martin's death, the film was titled "Neighborhood Watch" and in a move closely resembling a kneejerk reaction, Fox studios gave it its new name and immediately began marketing it as a "Ghostbusters" flavored sci-fi comedy.

Filmed in Inman Park, Brookhaven, Marietta and Powder Springs, "The Watch" bears no resemblance whatsoever to what happened between Martin and George Zimmerman and there is not a single depiction of human-on-human killing in the entire film. "The Watch" is not the first and certainly won't be the last movie cursed by similar real news and an untimely release date.

For no reason other than they wanted to and could, screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg ("Superbad") -- while completely overhauling the original script by Jared Stern -- fill the movie with some severely raw and quite graphic locker room dialogue. A little more than half of it is very funny and none of it has anything whatsoever to do with neighborhood watching, crime or aliens. It's what happens when suburbanite man-boys drink too much and thump their chests a little too hard. It also goes far in covering up a sloppy and uneven story.

More or less reprising their character personas from "Dodgeball," Ben Stiller (as Evan) and Vince Vaughn (as Bob) are neighbors in an Ohio enclave. Evan is a type-A manager of the local Costco who organizes community clubs in an effort to distract himself from some personal issues at home. He's very fond of charts, graphs and thick, spiral-bound instructional booklets.

After the gruesome (off-screen) death of a Costco night watchman and the subsequent non-reaction by the woefully understaffed local police department, Evan starts yet another club. As usual, the turnout to his outreach is sparse. There's just Bob, the recent (probably British) new subdivision arrival Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade, "The IT Crowd") and Franklin (Jonah Hill), an issue-riddled guy still living with his mommy who views the watch club as semi-consolation for his utter failure to become a cop.

As he often (wisely) does, Stiller plays the anal-retentive, easily-flustered straight man. Unlike the other three, who view the watch club as an excuse to socialize and slovenly bond, the rigid and friendless Evan is all business and no fun.

Recapturing the long-dormant spunk, swagger and unhinged bravado he exhibited in "Swingers" and "Wedding Crashers," Vaughn is equally charming, buffoonish and beady-eyed menacing. His sole reason for joining the club is to keep close tabs on his teen daughter, whose recent romantic escapades have been plastered all over the Internet.

For his part, Hill is essentially the evil twin brother of his character from the recent "21 Jump Street." Brimming over with false bravado, career frustration, misogyny and lacking social graces, he's weighed down by a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder -- but in a mostly comical way.

Ayoade (replacing Chris Rock) is the wild card of the bunch whose clipped, buttoned-down facade regularly melts away revealing a semi-twisted dude totally unfazed to say things few of us would ever consider uttering aloud, much less within the vicinity of anyone who could possibly hear it. He's the movie's wonderfully angular secret weapon. Keep your eyes on this Ayoade fellow; he's going places.

Because the four co-leads (and Rosemarie DeWitt as Evan's put-upon wife) are so collectively engaging and relatable, the silly and derivative plot can be mostly overlooked. Obvious fans of the "Alien" franchise, the screenwriters and director Akiva Schaffer probably didn't care whether or not the plot could hold water and, in the end, they were barely/mostly right. (Fox)