Ben Stiller plays a supermarket manager who is left shaken by the shocking murder of the store’s night watchman. This inspires him to start his own neighbourhood watch outfit. Unfortunately, the only volunteers he gets are a police academy reject (Jonah Hill), a boorish loudmouth merely looking for an excuse to hang out and party (Vince Vaughn), and a nerdy, socially awkward Brit (Richard Ayoade). At first, things don’t seem to be going anywhere, and local cop Will Forte is always on hand to mock Stiller’s efforts, but then the group uncover something sinister and altogether otherworldly: Aliens have landed and are impersonating human beings to infiltrate the ranks and carry out their dastardly deeds. Meanwhile, Stiller’s wife Rosemarie DeWitt desperately wants him to put a baby inside of her, but keeps getting rejected in favour of neighbourhood watch business. Billy Crudup plays a new neighbour who may be sexually interested in Stiller, might just be plain weird, or might be an alien impersonating a creepy human being. R. Lee Ermey plays a crusty old codger with a line in profane insults. He also plays one in the film.
Proof that money and big-name comedic talent aren’t enough to make a successful comedy, this desperate 2012 film from director Akiva Schaffer (who has done some short segments for “SNL” with Andy Samberg apparently), is pretty desperate and entirely unfunny stuff from normally funny screenwriters Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen (writers of the highly amusing and likeable “Superbad”),supposedly enhancing an original script by Jared Stern in a result that looks like a bunch of gags have been incongruously planted on top of a straight-up horror/sci-fi flick. The sole laugh in the whole film is a Spanish version of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence’. What does that tell you? Apparently there was much improv going on, and that doesn’t surprise me. What does surprise me is that none of the improv (nor anything else) is even remotely funny. How could so many allegedly talented on-screen performers get it so wrong? Well, “Wanderlust” from the same year yielded much the same desperately unfunny results despite supposed comic talent involved, so perhaps pedigree isn’t relevant.
Vince Vaughn in particular, appears to have thrown the screenplay out entirely and is just free-wheeling it, scatting and riffing all over the place. And he never produces a single laugh, as both he and Ben Stiller fall back on tired old screen personas, tics, and clichés. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. Vince Vaughn is good at playing Vince Vaughn, and here he’s trying to play an entirely different character...as Vince Vaughn, because it’s all he can do. As a character seemingly made for Seann William Scott or Zack Galifianakis, Vaughn completely flops and just comes off looking desperate. Stiller, meanwhile, is just incredibly boring, whilst Jonah Hill’s unstable police academy reject might have had the potential to be funny, but not here. Why did these three guys think this awful screenplay was ripe for filming? Well, since there has been some obvious improv going on, perhaps they didn’t. So why make it all then? Well, if the answer was money, they were shit out of luck on that front too, because it flopped. I’m sorry, but even R. Lee Ermey yelling and swearing a blue streak, and Billy Crudup acting weird and disarmingly suggestive aren’t enough to make this watchable.
Poor Rosemarie DeWitt looks incredible in sexy lingerie, but is given a horrible, nagging wife role that she can’t work miracles with. She’s far too beautiful and talented to be wasted in something like this. Apparently Richard Ayoade is a TV comedian of some repute (“The IT Crowd”, which I’ve never watched more than a few minutes of), but buggered if I can see any evidence of talent here. He joins Jermaine Clement, Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Catherine Tate, Aussie Rebel Wilson and several others in the ‘I don’t get it’ category. “SNL”comedian Will Forte, meanwhile, continues to be one of the least funny comedians sprouted from that TV show, and gets way too much screen time here.
The “ET” parody is cute but not actually funny nor as clever as everyone involved probably thought. The film itself is a combination of “The‘burbs” and “Attack the Block”, neither film being anywhere near a favourite of mine (Nor “Men in Black”, another film one could compare it to). I also found it odd that the central characters who formed the Neighbourhood Watch weren’t previously acquainted with one another (aside from a brief encounter between Stiller and Vaughn). Perhaps setting the film on a single street or two might’ve helped with that a bit, because it just stuck out to me. Maybe it’s partly that the actors had zero chemistry with one another and Ayoade in particular seems to be an ill-fit in this film.
Like “Couples Retreat”, this smacks of egotistical stars who wanted to spend money and just generally enjoy each others’ company, without any real effort to making a good film, with director Schaffer (whose previous film was “Hot Rod” with Andy Samberg) going along for the ride. Even the disappointing “Tower Heist” was better than this boring, unfunny flop.
A poor disappointment (well, unless you saw the trailer which was an accurate depiction of how bad the film is) where the laughs are so lacking one wonders if it was even intended to be comedic at all. If I were any of the actors involved here, I’d be deeply embarrassed by this misfire. My guess is that all involved will blame Trayvon Martin instead.