Observe and Report

observe

What exactly is it that people find so gosh darn appealing about Seth Rogen?  I’ve enjoyed some of his movies and always find him to be affable and engaging but what has he done that has made him such a huge box-office and critical darling in such a short span of time?  Observe and Report is his fourth movie in a little over eight months (if you include his voice in Monsters Vs. Aliens) and its poster is just his big mug staring out at you. 

I suppose it has something to do with his natural everyman quality, which he skewers a bit (but not quite enough) in this latest film that, at the very least, acts as a sobering antidote to the the Kevin James vehicle.  Other than being about mall cops, the two films couldn’t be further apart.  I’m sure we’ll hear some amusing stories about well-meaning parents who take their six year old to this expecting another family friendly fat-guy-falls-on-his-face affair and are horrified to find themselves watching this deranged story of a mall cop who enjoys tasering parking violators, beating up teenagers, and spends most of his time hunting a serial flasher.  For that alone, the film deserves a lot of praise.

Rogen plays Ronnie Barnhart, the delusional head of security at a typically American mall.  Ronnie is bi-polar and spends a good portion of his watch fantasizing about saving the day with a big gun.  He is madly in love with Brandi (Anna Faris), the bitchy cosmetics girl  who is dopey, but at least smart enoguh to be wary of Ronnie.  Ronnie lives with his alcoholic mother and dreams of being a real police officer.  The appearance of a serial flasher and a robber spark Ronnie on a quest to prove himself to the local police (personified by Ray Liotta) and to the entire world.

Writer-director Jody Hill has stated that his first big studio effort is a tribute to Taxi Driver and indeed, some comparisons can be made.  Both films involve delusional men who use violence as a way to solve what they view as all the problems of the world.  But while Taxi Driver regards its anti-hero with fear and despair, Observe and Report seems to want you to like Ronnie Barnhart.  Yes, he is a sociopath.  Yes, he proabably belongs in an institution, but don’t you feel just a little sorry for him? And can’t you just root for the underdog? Um…sorry, not really.

Hill goes back and forth so much between painting Ronnie as a sympathetic character and a complete psychopath that the film becomes a bit schizophrenic.  Perhaps, that was Hill’s point, but it feels more like an attempt of his to lighten up this material for mainstream audiences.  Not a wise move.  Just when you think the film is going to jump headfirst into truly disturbing territory, it pulls back to get an obvious laugh or a cheap tug on your heartstrings. 

Most critics will probably say that the film is ‘too dark’, but I was hoping that Hill would go the full mile.  It has moments (such as Ronnie’s terrifying psych-evalutation) that hint at just how fucking dangerous this man is, but far too often, Hill takes the easy way out, like with the overally happy ending and a cheesy romance between Ronnie and a crippled barista (Collete Wolfe).

That romance bugged the shit out of me.  Ronnie meets this friendly, kind-hearted woman who works in the coffee shop and suffers a barage of insults about her broken leg from her boss (a hilarious Patton Oswalt).  Yes, Ronnie comes to her defense by nearly shoving his head in the oven, but other than that, he is cold and awkward towards her.  That doesn’t stop her from staring at him with cute, puppy dog eyes and listening to him when he is clearly on the verge of a psychotic epsisode.  If she likes this creep so much, then she must be as deranged as he is, but that’s something the movie never explores.

Celia Watson earns solid laughs as Ronnie’s boozing mom, but once again, Hill paints her too kindly.  Her alcoholism is nothing more than a cheap joke that wears thin after awhile.  I also enjoyed Ray Liotta’s police officer who shouts things at Ronnie that my thoughts were echoing.  Michael Pena, known for serious roles in Crash and World Trade Center, has a blast as Ronnie’s second in command.  Faris is funny too, but her dumb, bitchy blonde act is starting to get old. 

And then there’s Rogen.  He plunges himself into the role with a confidence that is quite admirable and manages to navigate Hill’s touch-and-go script with ease.  I guess the reason people like Rogen so much is that he is just naturally funny.  And I have never been more convinced of that than while watching this film.  His facial expressions, strange movements, and sometimes touching monologues provide a lot of smirks and snickers. 

Observe and Report is not a bad movie, just a misguided one.  It wants to be disturbing and edgy, but also charming and sweet at the same time.  It doesn’t quite work, but it’s still more entertaining than most dipshit comedies that score millions at the box office (Paul Blart is a prime example).  I just wish Hill would have trusted his intentions a bit more.  The result is a movie that’s not nearly as funny and sharp as it could have been.  I kept thinking of one of the film’s funnier lines of dialogue:  Liotta’s character delights in informing Ronnie that he cannot join the academy and has his partner listening in the other room, the both of them snickering while Ronnie sinks into despair.  After a few moments, Liotta’s partner steps out of hiding and says, “I’m sorry.  I thought this would be funny, but it’s just kind of sad.”  And that, ladies and gentleman, says it all.

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