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OBSERVE AND REPORT (2009) **** movie review by COOP

Posted on April 15th, 2009
Posted on April 15th, 2009


It seems these days that Seth Rogen can do no wrong. He has top lined nearly every major comedy release in the past few years and shows no indication of slowing down. Everybody knows he’s a funny actor, but a great actor?… “Observe and Report” may prove Rogen had more ability than anyone imagined. The sad fact is that general audiences might not recognize the depth of Rogen’s performance as Ronnie Barnhardt and many won’t get what the film was trying to accomplish.

Mall security guard Ronnie Barnhardt (excuse me, he’s HEAD of mall security) lives in a trailer with his mother who suffers from a minor alcohol problem. Ronnie takes medication for a bi-polar condition that doesn’t affect him anymore, so he’s considering going off the stuff. The weak, sycophantic ciphers he works with admire his dedication but don’t recognize his potential for greatness. One day, a dangerous flasher starts sexually assaulting the female clientele (including Ronnie’s future girlfriend Brandi) in the mall parking lot. Ronnie sees a chance to prove his superiority to the under-appreciative community. He vows to capture the pervert, win Brandi’s heart and show up the smug Det. Harrison (Ray Liotta) who is trying to steal his thunder and his girl.

You may have noticed that this synopsis inaccurately aggrandizes the main character. If you did, you’re a perceptive reader. If Ronnie had imagined me writing the synopsis, that is how it would’ve sounded. It’s how he views himself and the world around him. From our perspective, Ronnie’s a nutcase. His overwhelming delusions of grandeur make him incapable of self-doubt, compromise or shame. He’s seen too many cop movies and thinks he’s the imminent hero of his own little world. Luckily for Ronnie, he gets away with his extreme behavior because he intimidates and frightens everyone he works with. The only person who doesn’t take him seriously is Liotta’s Harrison who puts up with him just long enough before exploding into screams of frustration. Ronnie is Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver.” He’s a ticking time bomb of violent rage and self destruction, ready to explode at any minute. As far as he’s concerned he just wants to catch the bad guy and get the girl. What’s wrong with that?

The film’s performances all shine, but none as bright as Rogen. Those few moments he manages to make you feel sorry for Ronnie reveals a hidden acting range that will surprise fans and critics alike. Anna Faris plays Brandi as only Anna Faris can: Vapid, clueless and funny. Michael Peña gets one of the most fun roles as Dennis, Ronnie’s sweet-talking 2nd in command who has an even more questionable moral code than Ronnie. Ray Liotta gets the prize for getting to play himself. He delivers the only straight performance in the film and seems baffled and enraged by the incompetence and unbelievable luck which seems to surround Ronnie in every aspect of his life. Liotta’s Harrison is the Chief Insp. Dreyfus to Ronnie’s Inspector Clouseau. After enduring Ronnie for too long, Harrison actually attempts to ruin and kill him, which of course backfires with hilarious results.

Dark, mean-spirited comedy soaks this film to the core. Unlike most laugh-fests which focus on the lighter things in life, “Observe and Report” might make you feel guilty for giggling. Some viewers might even fail to see the humor in watching Barnhardt’s disintegration into self-destruction. This is what makes dark comedies so challenging. Balancing the unpleasantness and discomfort with the amusing absurdity takes a skilled hand. Only a master can write and execute an effective example of this genre, and even though Writer/Director Jody Hill can only claim this as his second feature film, he might indeed be that master. His directorial debut “The Foot Fist Way” got him the attention of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, resulting in massive exposure for Hill. With his new TV series “Eastbound & Down” getting critical praise, Hill has surely become the new “it” guy in Hollywood.

Like Hill’s other efforts, “Observe” is about a loser who is incapable of realizing he is a loser. His life is one humiliation after another until he finally achieves a sort of pyrrhic victory that anyone else would perceive as insignificant. Although no critic or viewer I’ve met has brought it up, Ronnie’s final achievement in the film might even be a delusion in itself. A key moment right after Ronnie reaches his lowest point might telegraph a complete mental breakdown, possibly (but not definitely) making the end result a hallucinatory fib. Watch the last five minutes closely and think about it. If I’m right, then this film might actually be one of the darkest comedies I’ve ever experienced.

“Observe and Report” is designed to be highly offensive, so consider this a fair warning. Liberal obscenities, plenty of full-frontal male nudity and descents into sheer meanness will turn off audiences who aren’t prepared (or those who don’t have a taste for dark humor). If you’ve seen “The Foot Fist Way” or “Eastbound & Down,” you kind of know what you’re in for, so plan accordingly. Give it a chance and “Observe and Report” might be the most accomplished, if not the funniest, comedy of the year.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Click Here to see the “Observe and Report” Red-band trailer (that means uncensored!).

-Coop

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