By this point, the names Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill should mean automatic comedy gold. And when the trio comes together for The Watch, there’s certainly a lot of potential, especially with a movie about a grassroots Neighborhood Watch team that discovers their idyllic Midwestern town has come under invasion from an alien horde.

But those who have basked in the rock solid humor of recent gems like Ted and 21 Jump Street may find themselves wishing Judd Apatow had been available… or that Will Ferrell could have dropped by, if only for a cameo.

While The Watch certainly has its moments (yes, you will laugh), much of it ends up feeling more like an endless parade of subplots mixed with a tireless (and tired) variety of jokes about… well, insert your euphemism for ‘penis’ here.

Stiller is Evan Trautwig, a local go-getter who serves as manager of the neighborhood Costco. When his night guard shows up dead (and skinned and covered in green slime) one morning, Evan decides its time to rally the troops; there are only eight cops, total, in lovely Glenview, Ohio.

Answering the call are Bob (Vince Vaughn), a beer-swigging jock who signs on only to escape the ol’ ball-and-chain a few nights a week; Franklin (Jonah Hill), a switchblade-slingin’ youngster who’s been rejected by Glenview’s finest; and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), who’s just in it for the nookie with lonely housewives.

The motley crew take to the streets with super-slick silk jackets and a cooler full of Bud, thinking they’ll make quick work of the perp. But then they discover the perps are seven-foot-tall aliens with sharp teeth, lightning quickness, and talons the size of chef’s knives.

Director Akiva Schaffer is back in the director’s chair for the first time since 2007’s long-forgotten Hot Rod. And frankly, he should stick to his day job as writer and director of most of Saturday Night Live‘s “Digital Shorts”. The Watch ends up being such a jumbled mess that it’s hard to keep track of what movie you’re watching.

Along with the whole alien thing, Evan and his wife Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) are having trouble conceiving, and Bob is trying to control his off-the-hook teenage daughter. Subplots are one thing, but when a discussion about Abby’s ovulation seems to push everything else to the background? More than once? Did we just walk into What to Expect When You’re Expecting?

Seth Rogen and his Superbad-writing buddy Evan Goldberg (along with Mr. Popper’s Penguins‘ Jared Stern) could have probably used another six months or so to polish the script and decide what movie they were making. Or to at least do something to stem their fascination with male genitalia. Jokes about penises, semen, and testicles abound. Half of them are funny.

If you’re expecting a mix of smart comedy and the supernatural, along the lines of Ghostbusters, think again. The Watch comes off more as E.T. by way of Adam Sandler.

2.5/5 stars