2012’s The Watch is a wasted opportunity, plain and simple. With a majestic cast like this, the film seems like a can’t-miss prospect, but instead you’ll spend the entire picture waiting for it to take off and cut loose in uproarious ways…only to realise that the moment will never arrive. The Watch is completely middle-of-the-road and unremarkable from start to finish, rendering it boring and underwhelming. It’s seriously deflating to see The Watch unfold on-screen, spotlighting a cavalcade of talented people all performing with humiliating desperation. The stars here all want to make you laugh, yet it would seem that they have forgotten about how exactly to achieve this end.

In a small Ohio town, Evan Trautwig (Stiller) is a model citizen who manages the local Costco and coordinates local activities. Following the vicious death of a Costco security guard one night, Evan believes a killer is on the loose, and decides to start a neighbourhood watch group. The idea barely catches on, however – it only attracts loudmouth married man Bob (Vaughn), lonely wannabe cop Franklin (Hill) and Brit outsider Jamarcus (Ayoade). Initially, Bob, Franklin and Jamarcus refuse to take the group seriously, using their get-togethers as an excuse to drink beer and have fun while Evan struggles to whip his volunteers into shape. It isn’t long before the foursome discover that an alien invasion is unfolding in their own backyard, with extraterrestrials having ingratiated themselves into everyday society as they plot the destruction of humankind.

This premise should have yielded a fun Ghostbusters-style sci-fi comedy, but the film never shifts out of the first gear. Oddly, the comic timing and delivery is way off, and the picture often goes for cheap laughs and crude humour rather than coherent storytelling or anything approaching wit. The script (credited to Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg) is stuffed with obvious red herrings, clichéd personal problems and underdeveloped characters (Franklin and Jamarcus are particularly short-changed). Added to this, The Watch feels like it was made up on the spot, with the gifted actors frantically mugging for laughs and dropping tonnes of vulgarities in an attempt to overshadow the lack of hearty belly-laughs. Topping this off is eye-rolling product placement for Costco and 3-D.

The Watch is the second directorial undertaking for Saturday Night Live veteran Akiva Schaffer, who previously directed the uneven but sporadically amusing Hot Rod. To his credit, Schaffer’s mise-en-scène is smooth and the technical specs are competent, but the whole film feels incredibly flat due to the lack of worthwhile humour. This is not to say the film is completely bereft of amusing moments since there are a few good laughs here and there, but a typical evening YouTube surf would yield more entertainment. And YouTube is free. We deserve a lot more from a major motion picture which cost tens of millions of dollars to produce, and which you’ll have to pay $10 to see. It’s great that Fox permitted The Watch to be R-rated, but it seems as if the filmmakers used the rating as an excuse to be lazy. Several PG comedies have been far cleverer than this.

Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade are somewhat of a comic dream team, so it’s a shame that The Watch pretty much squanders the talents of all four performers. A line-up like this deserves a far better, wittier script to match their skills. Stiller is especially dreadful here; he just relied on his trademark neurotic screen persona. Meanwhile, Ayoade is a total missed opportunity. The spirited British comedian is a hoot inThe IT Crowd and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, and he genuinely deserves a successful film career. The Watch wastes him completely, relegating the talent to a bland background role with no memorable laugh lines or, indeed, any chances for him to show what an amazing comedic talent he is. This is all the more deflating considering that most Americans have never even heard of Ayoade, and The Watch is a slipshod way to introduce him. The film’s only real acting bright spot is Will Forte as a local cop always giving the boys a hard time. Everything Forte does – every line and facial expression – is roll-on-the-ground hilarious, and the actor infuses the film with an irresistible spark of comic energy. Unfortunately, he’s not present in any great capacity, and his efforts here only remind us how much we need a sequel to the underrated MacGruber.

Taken as fluffy entertainment on a rainy afternoon when you have nothing better to do,The Watch may be somewhat satisfying. It’s never excruciatingly awful or unwatchable; it’s just painfully mediocre.