Punchline-spouting actors confront supernatural beings, and fast-paced, moderately scary hilarity ensues. If that pitch for The Watch strikes you as eerily similar to 1984's Ghostbusters, you're not alone. Many reviewers have wearily drawn the same parallel, but most argue that the new film — in which a ragtag group of overzealous neighborhood-watch volunteers (Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade) go up against space aliens who infiltrate their Ohio suburb — is a painfully meager pretender to the Ghostbusters throne. Here, four reasons why The Watch doesn't measure up:
1. It lacks the key Ghostbusters ingredient: Bill Murray
The script of The Watch, which opens Friday, is "slavishly" faithful to the Ghostbusters template, says Scott Tobias at NPR, right down to the green slime (in this case, alien blood). But the film doesn't "have anyone of [Ghostbuster star] Bill Murray's caliber to punch up the jokes." The relatively unknown Ayoade, a British import, is "most possessed of the Murray-like talent for pinging beasties with dry wit and delicious eccentricity." Unfortunately, the other "well-fed stars" come off as wooden.
2. The Trayvon Martin tragedy casts a pall over the movie
"There's no question that the film was shamelessly conceived in the Ghostbusters mold," says Matt Singer at Screen Crush. And once upon a time, this passably funny effort might have had a shot at success. But the movie became "burdened by all sorts of unwanted and unintended cultural associations" after the shooting of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. The studio even changed the title — originally Neighborhood Watch — but it's just not enough. "This poor movie can't catch a break."
3. And the cloud of the Aurora shooting looms, too
As if the association with Trayvon Martin weren't bad enough, says Sean O'Connell at Cinema Blend, "a week before The Watch opens, a lunatic opens fire in a Colorado movie theater, making it difficult to belly laugh at... jokes about gun play, shootouts, and campaigns to stop the senseless murders in our suburban community."
4. Plus, it's just not that funny
To overcome the external obstacles and become the next Ghostbusters, says O'Connell, which The Watch "desperately wants to be," the movie would have to be "fall-on-the-floor funny" from start to finish. And it's just not.