April 09, 2009

Observe and Report

Here, take these. You'll need them
after watching this movie.

Grade: C +

Director: Jody Hill

Starring: Seth Rogan, Ray Liotta, Michael Peña, Anna Faris, Celia Weston, and Collette Wolfe

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

It is the darkest of dark comedies that draws inspiration from Taxi Driver. But, it is not the visage of the lone, deranged vigilante that demarcates director and North Carolina native Jody Hill’s Observe and Report. Instead, shopping mall security guard Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogan) is the unhinged byproduct of the Bush-era delusion that sees evildoers around every kiosk and the calls to arms as a proletarian path towards otherwise elusive notoriety and self-worth. So, when a serial flasher turns the mall into his personal peep show, Ronnie’s bipolar-fueled obsession to bring the perp to justice serves as a springboard towards applying to become a real police officer, protecting the “homeland,” and impressing a slutty cosmetics salesgirl (Anna Faris, benefiting most from the film’s hard edge).

The inanity is offbeat and uproarious at times, but Hill’s (Foot Fist Way) script is rudderless, depressing, and overly mean-spirited – there are only so many laughs you can comfortably draw from tableaus of mental illness, substance abuse, racism, and date rape. Not long into the film, Ronnie morphs from semi-sympathetic oaf to self-absorbed, dangerous tool, rendering the portrait of his boozy, slatternly mom (Celia Weston) quite sad and the advances of a sweet young pixie (Collete Wolfe) working in the food court quite incredulous. So, in his alpha-male rivalry with a police detective played by Ray Liotta, the audience embraces the profanity-laden, classic-Liotta rant he screams into Ronnie’s dimwitted ear. Later, we quietly cheer when a horde of cops go Rodney King on Ronnie’s violent, dysfunctional noggin. Ronnie isn’t an anti-hero; he’s just non-heroic.

The setting and subject-matter invite inevitable comparisons to that other, recent mall cop comedy, Kevin James’ appropriately titled Paul Blart: Mall Cop. But, there is more authentic insight into the shopping mall subculture in Zack Synder’s Dawn of the Dead remake than here, and the putrid laughs play more to the Bad Santa cheap seats. To borrow a quote from a cop who eavesdrops on Ronnie being rejected for the police force, “I thought this was going to be funny, but it’s really just kinda sad.”

Neil Morris

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