REVIEW: Observe and Report [2009]

“This is my lifeline, my legacy”

I can’t say enough about Danny McBride. The guy has been on a tear of late, even getting his own HBO show “Eastbound & Down”. Well, his star has risen in large part to his collaborator on that show, Jody Hill. Hill wrote and directed everyone’s favorite curly mullet in a little film called The Foot Fist Way, and it’s been all uphill since. I have yet to experience this inaugural turn—the film the Apatow gang saw before letting him join their posse—but have heard all good things. With that in mind, I was eagerly anticipating the new Seth Rogen vehicle Observe and Report. Hill was back as orchestrator, but this time he had an established star at the front. The trailer looked like it might cross over into dark territory and I was all for it. Unfortunately, when the tide does change, when imbecility becomes psychopathic, not only does the film become a tad uncomfortable and odd, but also slow and boring. There are some funny moments—even at the end—however, overall, the film just plain falls flat.

You don’t think much can go wrong with a simple premise about a mall security guard and a guy like Rogen leading the way. Heck, Kevin James made a killing with Paul Blart and that just looked like mindless stupidity. Something about this film looked as though it might be relevant. It had the chance to delve into the insecurities and masks that a twenty-something year old with responsibility in a joke of a job puts on to keep sane and important. Perhaps there would be an evolution, some growth from immature headcase to heroic hourly employee that gets the girl. Well, I’m here to say that Observe and Report is nothing of the sort. By using the inclusion of Rogen’s Ronnie Barnhardt’s prescription drug use, medication to help cut his bi-polar tendencies, as a cause for him to just go crazy, Hill takes the story to a much blacker place than expected. It only takes one seemingly innocuous exchange, the declaration that his life is going so good he doesn’t need to take pills anymore, to allow a slightly deranged, but in check—“let’s use our inside voices”—man become the rage hidden beneath his awkward exterior.

Oh, and let’s not worry about writing in consequences or anything. The darkness includes heavy drug use, extended male frontal nudity, (there is a streaker on the loose after all), excessive violence at the hand of batons and flashlights, and a shooting that is so surprising and appropriate in its own strange way that I actually loved it. What is once a mission to gain respect and self-worth, the need to find a criminal who has sexually assaulted the girl of his dreams to prove to the real cops he has what it takes, spirals out of control. The absurdity of it all can be appreciated, and the turns it takes can be seen as bold yet fitting, but in the end, what was the point of it all? Loose ends are tied up, no one really suffers, and bad people remain very, very bad, if not worse. Maybe its all a commentary on the utter selfishness of consumerism and the people employed as cogs in its grand machine, whether they mall workers or customers, but I think that is giving too much credit. I believe all those shots of eccentric, possibly unaware real shoppers are there to serve as a mirror for society’s gluttony and greed. The actual plot and storyline, though, that’s just an excuse to get as crazy as you want and not have to worry about repercussions.

Observe and Report did attract some talent, so you have to believe all involved saw something that they felt needed to be expressed. Anna Faris plays pretty much the same character she does in everything, the bimbo slutty girl all the guys want, (I still can’t get past her lips and how ugly they make her look), and Ray Liotta takes another role that allows him to have some fun and collect a paycheck, something that appears to be par for the course at this point in his career. I really enjoyed John Yuan and Matt Yuan as the Yuen twins with their perpetual giddiness about destruction as well as Michael Peña’s turn as Dennis. His speech impediment and gangsta stylings are priceless, especially for a guy that is most known and praised for stellar dramatic turns. Definitely the highlight of the film, I laughed every time he opened his mouth, even when his character took a turn, much like the film, that was oddly appropriate if not completely out of left field. The true shining light, however, is Collette Wolfe as a coffee shop cashier in a leg brace. Her purity is on display in stark contrast to everything else, begging to finally be a catalyst to some event in Ronnie’s life. She was subtle and by far the most natural part of the movie, definitely the focal point we could ground ourselves with as the world of the mall is turned upside-down.

And that brings me to Seth Rogen. He is great in this role, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t know why he thought he needed to do it. Sure he gets to smack kids around with skateboards and push people over as he pursues a naked, chubby man through the mall, but it’s a thankless role as far as moral ambiguity goes. The audience can never feel as though he deserves anything. He throws away or is blind to all the good in his life and he falls pray to urges that will do nothing but harm him. I guess maybe the film works as a cautionary tale for parents to not raise their kids drunk and to push them into following their dreams. Unfortunately, through it all, not only does Rogen not reach his dreams, he shatters them and should be thrown in jail or an institution for the rest of his life as a result. Instead, though, what do you think happens? I’ll just pose the question: do you think he gets the girl, and if so which one? Maybe bad things do breed happiness.

Observe and Report 5/10 | ★ ★

Oh, and back to Danny McBride … totally steals the entire film with a two–minute cameo as “Caucasian crackhead”—pure genius at work.

[1] (L-R) ANNA FARIS as Brandi and SETH ROGEN as Ronnie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ dark comedy “Observe and Report,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Peter Sorel.
[2] MICHAEL PEÑA as Dennis in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ dark comedy “Observe and Report,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release starring Seth Rogen. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.


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