Last summer, a cool little action-comedy from England came to the U.S. It was called Attack the Block. It was about a gang of teenage criminals in a rough London neighborhood who discover that aliens have invaded their housing project. Together with the woman they've just mugged they have to fight the creatures and save the world. It was a fresh burst of a summer movie: exciting, funny and, most of all, energetic.
In this film, Ben Stiller plays a civic-minded Costco manager who organizes a neighborhood watch after his friend and co-worker is savagely murdered in the store, after hours. He assembles an inept crew of men who'd rather do anything else than pay attention to fighting crime: rage-filled Jonah Hill, partying man-child Vince Vaughn and the affable, cool, somewhat mysterious Richard Ayoade. When they discover that aliens have invaded the Costco, using it as an operations base to destroy the world, they have to fight back. But unlike its predecessor, it is not fresh, it is not exciting, it is not funny. And as for energetic, well, I'm feeling sleepy just having to think about it. It's a film that seems to forget its own existence and reason to keep moving, and it does this over and over, occasionally rousing itself to spout off something worth a mild laugh before stumbling back into a stupor.
Now remember, Attack the Block came out a full year ago. That allowed plenty of time for this unintentional remake to get in some last minute salvage work: re-writes, re-shoots, whatever it might have taken to push this sad excuse of a film into feeling like anyone was concerned about its well-being at all. Maybe allow the cast to improvise more? Make the aliens more menacing? Create any kind of tension, either of the comedic or sci-fi variety? No? Okay.
Stiller, Hill and Vaughn are all capable comic actors but here none of them feel connected to the film or to each other. Only relative newcomer Ayoade displays any desire to hoist himself out of the quicksand. And it gets even more baffling behind the camera, with director Akiva Schaffer (part of the Lonely Island crew with Andy Samberg) and screenwriters Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg all seemingly checked out. Who's to blame? Did this many talented people all come together to spin their wheels and recycle comic bits they've done better before? Did someone hack it to pieces in the editing bay after the Trayvon Martin killing? Did producers gut it of anything that might offend the least functioning, most easily amused audience? Maybe we'll never know. And we don't have to care. The movie didn't care about us first.