A film review by Craig J. Koban
OBSERVE AND REPORT
2009, R, 85 mins.
2009, R, 85 mins.
Seth Rogen: Ronnie Barnhardt / Anna Faris: Brandi / Michael Pena: Dennis / Celia Weston: Robbie's Mom / Ray Liotta: Det. Harrison
Written and directed by Jody Hill
AND REPORT is one of those comedies that certainly thinks that it’s a
whole lot funnier than it actually is.
If anything, this film is more drearily weird and darkly offbeat than it is rousingly hysterical.
What’s perhaps most surprising – and frequently shocking –
about his whole enterprise is just how twisted, morose and demented the
film becomes as its story progresses.
The advertising for it on TV is largely fraudulent, much akin to
the shamelessly false advertising for last week’s diamond in the rough
dramedy, ADVENTURELAND. Whereas
I applauded what a refreshing change of pace that latter mentioned film
was apart my preconceived expectations of it, I did not have the same
euphoric reaction to OBSERVE AND REPORT; instead of being a laugh-out-loud comedy, it emerges as
something kind of off-putting, sinister, violent, and…well…utterly
Parallels between this film and another surprise hit comedy from earlier this year, PAUL BLART: MALL COP, seem inevitable: Both films are about…mall cops; both take place ostensibly in a large urban shopping plaza; both involve a pudgy and overachieving misfit character that aspires to a higher authority than that of being a lowly and ill-respected security officer; and both involve their beleaguered main characters pining for the attraction of a gorgeous female co-worker that seems beyond their grasp and hopelessly out of their league. However, all of these mentioned similarities are superficial at best, because most of the family friendly slapstick antics and warm-heartedness of PAUL BLART is all but pissed on in OBSERVE AND REPORT. The characters here are crude, vulgar, racist, bipolar, slutty, and pathetically sadistic at times.
much more fitting title for the film could have been TRAVIS BICKLE:
SOCIOPATHIC MALL COP.
That proposed title is not nearly as inappropriate as it reads. The more OBSERVE AND REPORT descended into sickening depravity, the more it became apparent that TAXI DRIVER seemed more like a distant influence on this film. Funny, but I never once found the Travis Bickle character that punctuated every unnerving minute of Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film to be even remotely amusing or agreeable. I think that is part of OBSERVE AND REPORT’s problem: its main mall cop character, played by Seth Rogen, never comes across as an affable misfit/loser for audiences to root for and invest in. On the contrary, Rogen’s character is an unremittingly vile, repugnant, and mean-spirited persona. Instead of playing a lovable loser (as the actor has made a very successful career at in films as far ranging as THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN, KNOCKED UP, SUPERBAD, and THE PINEAPPLE EXPRESS), Rogen inhabits an appallingly disturbed and psychotic loser.
sometimes there is nothing more rousing and rewarding than to see a
performer go completely against the grain and invest in a
character that is wholeheartedly different than they are accustomed to
(for example, I have always maintained that Robin Williams has always been
more effective in low key and quietly modulated dramatic performances). The same principle cannot be held in regards to Rogen
here: I think comic actors that don’t necessarily have a considerable
amount of range are always better suited to playing up their inherent strengths. With Rogen, his
strengths lie predominately with playing potty-mouthed, dazed and confused
slackers, but at least there has always been something indescribably
likeable about all of his oddball characters, despite their social indiscretions.
The problem with OBSERVE AND REPORT is that Rogen’s role never
once garners any iota of audience sympathy or understanding.
More often than not,
the character inspires shameful pity. He’s just a perverse and emotionally unpleasant creation.
only that…but he is a borderline schizophrenic sociopath with delusions
of grandeur. Ronnie Barnhardt
(Rogen) is seemingly one step away from a mental institution: he lives in his trailer park trashy home with his mother (Celia
Weston, giving this film some much needed light-heartedness) who spends
her days secretly putting rum into her Coke bottles. His mom is so methodically sloshed everyday that she
sometimes passes out in the middle of a conversation with her son and
sometimes her penchant for the bottle increases her hurtful level of honesty with him
(in one side-splitting moment when Ronnie asks her if his father left them
both because of him, she hilariously deadpans back “Definitely”).
relationship with his own mother is strange beyond belief, but his social
skills beyond the home are hopelessly inept.
He is the head of mall security at a local shopping center and has
four underlings: second in command Dennis (Michel Pena, never once
funny while sporting greasy curly hair and an annoyingly wispy slur to his
speech), the Yeun Twins (the very timid, but oddly crazy looking, John
and Matt Yuan) and Charles (Jesse Plemons).
Ronnie’s chronically obsessive attitude takes form in his
unadulterated lust for his job as well as in the form of being infatuated with
a very busty and very trashy cosmetics girl named Brandi (played in a
go-for-broke slutty performance by Anna Faris, showing what a real trooper
she is for going to any length to show off her character’s bitchy and
skanky façade). His attempts
at striking up even the simplest of conversations with her carry the same eerie and cringe-worthy vibe that scenes involving Bickle with
women had in TAXI
crime in particular angers Ronnie to the max: a streaker has managed to
approach many mall patrons both inside and outside its doors, and Ronnie
makes it is soul mission to find this creep in order to protect Brandi (again,
this echoes Bickle's morose and fanatically minded focus to protect a
prostitute In TAXI DRIVER). He
does not take kindly to the arrival of a local police detective, Harrison
(Ray Liotta, having more fun with his part than just about anyone in the
film), who comes in and rightfully tries to take charge of the
seeing Harrison as an unnecessary roadblock that impedes his own detective
skills, takes a highly disagreeable hatred of the man…even though he
deeply respects his status in the police department and wants to become
one of his “kind”.
is moment in TAXI DRIVER where Bickle – right before he attempts to
assassinate a presidential candidate – has an unnerving and disturbing
conversation with a Secret Service man, asking if they are recruiting. Just look at the sequence where Ronnie goes in for a
psychological exam as part of his police recruitment training in the film:
he maintains the same level of cruel emotional dislocation from any normal
plane of reality. Even when
he goes on a ride-along with Harrison at one point in order to understand
what his job entails – and is later stranded by Harrison in the worst
hood in town – Ronnie still manages to thank the incredulous detective
for giving him the hands-on resolve to get through his hellish ordeal. Ronnie’s full transformation into an offensively
brutal and deeply insane creature hits full stride during a very
unsettling date with Brandi, during which she show her willingness to
through just about any drug and/or drink into her small frame.
The scene with Faris throwing caution to the wind, downing meds
and shots like they're going out of style, is very funny, but the culmination of
their night is not at all (Question: Is date rape remotely amusing?
Answer: no). The film
then spirals completely out of control in its wild, raucous, and totally
unhinged final 30 minutes, where Rogen takes his character to sadistic
depths that a likeable actor like him is incapable of overcoming in the
what I don’t understand: Is
writer/director Jody Hill (THE FIST FOOT WAY) mocking and condescending
this unscrupulous and insane cretin or is he celebrating his miserable
senselessness and shocking level of crazy tunnel vision?
OBSERVE AND REPORT never once feels like it has a clue in the
world. Some will, no doubt,
find the film’s unrelenting bleakness and its willingness to push the
envelope to be oddly inspiring. On
a positive, I will commend Hill for never once copping out, nor does he go for
easiest route with this type of material: OBSERVE AND REPORT has oodles of
tenacity and nerve and takes legitimate chances, not to mention that Hill
has a real knack for stylish flourishes and kinetic flair (his use of editing
and well-timed music cues has a real refinement and consummate polish:
this is a good looking and well made film through and through).
the real problem with the film is that – despite all of its overtones
with being a nasty, incisive black comedy with a gnarly attitude and
ravenous, sometimes stomach churning bite – it woefully substitutes
lowbrow jokes, freakishly hideous characters, and deplorable shock and awe
gags in place of genuine laughs. Even
the film’s climatic scene involving copious amounts of full frontal male
nudity – shown in slow-mo, no less – is certainly shocking, but never
once feels cutting edge or really altogether funny.
For defying conventions, OBSERVE AND REPORT deserves some accolades
(Hill certainly has skill and a persistently crazed and steadfast vision
for his film...and he never apologizes for its excesses), but there is a
difference between punishing viewers into a sense of unease and submission
as opposed to stomping on cinematic taboos in order to make us laugh.
OBSERVE AND REPORT is not a complete comedic dead zone. Anna Faris has small moments of vulgar charm as her perpetually inebriated floozy, not to mention that Ray Liotta (who so often plays cops in dramas and action films), creates an animalistic intensity here that works almost better in comedies than in other serious fare. Celia Weston, as stated, nearly steals the film with her portrayal of Rogen’s Jack Daniels loving mom (a little bit of her goes a long way here to rise the film above its depressing undertones). Unfortunately, the film is rarely sidesplitting with its main protagonist. I have taken much heat regarding my positive review of PAUL BLART, but I think that making a family friendly film that is naturally funny is harder to pull off than a hyper-stylized, raunchy, and ill-mannered comedy that tries too hard to shock and distress audience members. Ultimately, Rogen’s mall cop is a categorically dark-hearted, monstrously demented and ill-mannered monster that sinks deeper and deeper into emotional chasms where his lust for bloodshed becomes a sick security blanket. He's about as funny as Travis Bickle was in TAXI DRIVER.
In Short: not very funny at all, which essentially sums up my overall feelings about OBSERVE AND REPORT.