Rarely does a film as genuinely dopey as "The Watch" profess just how genuinely dopey it is. In just about every scene and conscious choice it makes, "The Watch" tacitly acknowledges that it doesn't have much to say and doesn't have a greater purpose on this earth than to be a puerile R-rated sci-fi action buddy comedy. It marshals its resources toward simply being the best not-all-that-great movie it can be. As a result, "The Watch" manages to be surprisingly watchable and guiltily funny.
Take the story, for instance. At no point are you expected to seriously believe that an alien invasion in small-town Ohio is plausible, or that its first victim should be a security guard in a Costco. But there's your premise. Ben Stiller plays the store manager who's also so enraptured with the idea of club-based civic engagement that his response is to form a neighborhood watch group to pick up where the derelict small-town cops (Will Forte, chiefly) have chosen to leave off. Three guys sign on: affable construction dude Vince Vaughn, unbalanced wannabe cop Jonah Hill and prim goat-horny Richard Ayoade (of the U.K. version of "The IT Crowd").
Stiller, true to his form, plays the cluelessly type-A marm while the other guys clearly prefer male bonding to investigating murders per se. But the script — by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg ("Superbad") — deftly pushes the action ahead while allowing those friendships to grow with the kind of unexpected bro sincerity that even the filthiest comedies in the Judd Apatow school usually incorporate. Director Akiva Schaffer of "Saturday Night Live" makes a cameo that suggests this ethos in a particularly self-effacing and literal fashion, appearing with his Lonely Island accomplices and credited as Casual Wanker No. 3.
No mistake, this is a guys' movie, predicated on male fantasies: an alien invasion that needs to be solved with firearms, relentlessly forward sexual partners, a pool table in the basement. Female characters — a wife trying to conceive, a teen-aged daughter, a nosy mom — torment the men as they drink and crack wise and kind of try to save humankind, boys being boys. Even when they happen upon a shiny orb-weapon they find they can't activate it unless they all poke fingers into its various nooks. Freud would've had a lot to say about that particular method of evaporating cows and tractors via alien death ray.
Nothing against Stiller and Ayoade, but Vaughn's performance generally, and especially his friendship with Hill, provides the bulk of the giggles here. He plays a character that Hollywood tends to ignore but which happens to supply much of its profits: the hard-working, firmly middle-class, none-too-sophisticated family man who lives in a landlocked state and is equally entranced by 3D flatscreens and Budweiser. His idea of a good time is honest and simple, and even though he does have a quick enough wit to rip off a couple of nice lines once in a while, he tends to approach his friends and his family with a high degree of earnestness. David Brooks would drool at this rendition of an American consumerist father. Vaughn just gives him energy that winds up feeling oddly patriotic in its dignity. You'll root for him and his merry band of mopes to save the world.