Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
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There's a scene in watch in which the four leads are crammed into a car on a stakeout, complaining about how bored they are.

It's all too easy to identify.

A bizarro action comedy, the Watch squanders the ample talents of Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade, each of whom are so naturally funny that it takes a significant effort for any of them to not make you laugh. Most of the time the movie is well up to the task.

The slumming temporarily un-funnymen play four overenthusiastic, small-town morons who form a neighborhood watch after some guy's skin gets ripped off inside a Costco. It's most definitely a Costco, not Sam's Club or a generic stand-in, because the store's sign gets prominent display in half the movie's scenes and the characters call it by name, going the Adam Sandler route of justifying product placement by taking it to such an extreme that it becomes a joke.

Give the script, as well as Costco brass, credit for not being afraid to taint the warehouse store's image with murders and shootouts on the premises. That's impressive for a place that doesn't even let you bring your drinks inside.

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That's about the extent of the praise this thing deserves. Other than a few can't-miss awkward sex gags — for example, the part in which the guys compare their thoughts on the texture and taste of a certain bodily fluid —  the writing is lifeless and the movie has all the edge of a dull razor. It's almost as though screenwriter Seth Rogen, who teams up with Evan Goldberg and Jared Stern, is sick of Hill getting all the roles he used to get so he intentionally wrote something awful to bring him back down to earth.

To his credit, Hill fares the best, with his boisterous, inappropriate one-liners keeping things halfway watchable. Vaughn, who gets far too few chances to strut his stuff these days, gets carried away with his motormouth shtick and goes off on overlong monologues that enter diminishing returns territory that Robin Williams knows all too well. Ayoade is the noob of the bunch, not able to contribute in a meaningful way, while Stiller, the eternal put-upon straight man, has nothing consistent to work with.

The plot takes a ridiculous turn that you're probably aware of if you've read anything about the movie, but in case you're in the dark, I'll let it stay a secret. Not so much to avoid spoilers, but to spare you the indignity of  having to suffer through brain-tainting dullness. Suffice it to say that the unwatchable watchmen end up facing a threat that's more dangerous than the egg-tossing kids they confront early on. What might have been a welcome shock turns out to be a groaner. 

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My best advice is to avoid wasting big money to see The Watch in the theaters. Wait a few months, and if you still feel driven to try your luck with the movie, look for the DVD, which is sure to snag some prime shelf space at Costco. Maybe you can take advantage of the store's legendarily lax return policy and return the movie as defective because its jokes don't work.

Starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade. Written by Jared Stern,  Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Directed by Akiva Schaffer. 100 minutes. Rated R.

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