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Observe and Report (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 19, 2023


Starring Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Michael Peña, Ray Liotta, Collette Wolfe, Celia Weston, Jesse Plemons, Aziz Ansari, Dan Bakkedahl, Z. Ray Wakeman, David House, John Yuan, Matt Yuan, Ben Best and Patton Oswalt.

Screenplay by Jody Hill.

Directed by Jody Hill.

Distributed by Warner Bros. 106 minutes. Rated R.

On first glance, at least, Observe and Report seems to be a mirror image of Kevin James’ surprise January hit Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

After all, Observe and Report is about an overweight security guard at a suburban shopping mall who is unable to become a real policeman. He takes his responsibilities way too seriously. He lives with his mother. He has a silent crush on a pretty girl who works in the mall. Finally, his true mettle is tested when crime infringes on his little world and he must protect the mall from the scourge of outside danger, all while dealing with a policeman who he feels is the competition.

However, even if their storylines are disturbingly similar, in execution the films could not be more different. Blart was a kid-friendly light comedy. The character was mostly a lovable loser. The romance with the mall worker was rather sweet. The violence was cartoonish and mostly harmless.

Observe and Report, on the other hand, is a much darker, more adult film. Our main character is not merely a likable, misunderstood fuck-up. He is severely delusional and often appears to be borderline insane. The object of his affection is alcoholic, stupid, vapid, bitchy and sleeps around. The violence is ramped up significantly as well.

Written and directed by Jody Hill, who has been honing his own individual style, comedy of the distasteful, with two Danny McBride projects – the movie The Foot Fist Way and HBO sitcom Eastbound and Down (McBride has a cameo here as a drug dealer) – Observe and Report certainly looks more professionally made than either of those, but it also pulls some punches that those two never would.

Hill’s specialty seems to be the comedy of shock. While some of this is undeniably very funny in an in-your-face kind of way, many audiences will probably recoil from much that they see.

Seth Rogen (making what must be his fiftieth film appearance in the last few years) plays Ronnie Barnhardt, the rent-a-cop in question. He lives with his mother (Celia Weston) an alcoholic who regularly passes out on her son.

He has a crush on a busty-but-dumb cosmetics counter girl who obviously can’t stand him – played by Anna Faris, who is really taking one for the team in playing this role. Faris has never been shy about playing unlikable characters, however this takes it to near surreal levels. A single scene may forever change her image, one where Rogen is humping an apparently passed out Faris. When he notices dried vomit on her pillow he checks to see if she’s okay, but she berates him, without even opening her eyes, “Why you stopping, motherfucker?”

The one place that Ronnie deludes himself that he has complete control is in the mall. He has a group of underlings that he can push around. Ronnie patrols the mall looking for any tomfoolery.

When a flasher exposes himself to some women at the mall and there is a series of nighttime store robberies, the local cops are called in. Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) automatically becomes the enemy to Ronnie, and he is determined to solve the cases on his own.

Of course, it turns out that Ronnie is completely inept at this kind of investigation, but even though Det. Harrison eventually snaps and tells him off, in Ronnie’s head he is on the way to a life of crime fighting, even to the point of trying to become a real cop.

While Observe and Report has a lot of interesting moments, I think it was pretty much summed up by a single line by a supporting character. One of the cops hides in Lt. Hamilton’s closet to watch as the cop breaks the news to Ronnie that he will not be getting into the Police Academy – hoping the security guard will melt down. Instead, Ronnie tries to bargain and beg his way in, at which time the cop steps out of his hiding place. “I thought this would be kind of funny,” he says, “but it’s actually kind of sad.”

Truth is, I left the theater feeling the same way.

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: April 11, 2009.

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