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Overall Rating

Awesome: 27.69%
Worth A Look41.54%
Just Average: 3.08%
Pretty Crappy: 10.77%
Sucks: 16.92%

7 reviews, 23 user ratings

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Observe and Report
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Who Watches The Mall Cops?"
5 stars

Last week, while raving about the lovely comedy “Adventureland,” I mentioned the fact that the studio releasing it was essentially selling it under somewhat false pretenses with a series of commercials and trailers that promised a broad and raucous comedy along the lines of “Superbad” instead of the gentler and more dramatically oriented film that it actually was and suggested than audiences who went to it expecting the former might come away from it so disappointed that they didn’t get what was promised that they might not recognize the delights that it actually did contain. (Of course, as it turns out, my warnings didn’t really matter much since all of you apparently decided to give it a pass altogether and went out to see “Fast and Furious” instead.) By an amazing coincidence, the new comedy “Observe and Report” is another one in which the film promised in the ads and trailers is very different from the one playing in the multiplexes. The one highlighted in the ads promises another broad and rambunctious goof that looks like a raunchier take on the same basic material that fueled the recent surprise smash hit “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” However, what is on the screen is something entirely different--an absolutely hilarious, decidedly discomfiting and borderline transgressive work that will doubtlessly shock some viewers with the darkness of its comedic vision and shock others by the fact that it was the brainchild of the same writer-director responsible for what was arguably the least funny film of 2008 not named “The Love Guru.”

On the surface, it seems like a standard-issue contemporary comedy, the kind that Will Ferrell has been grinding out pretty much non-stop for the last few years. Seth Rogen stars as Ronnie Barnhardt, a beefy schlub who serves as the head of mall security for an ordinary mid-sized indoor shopping mall. From the outset, it is clear that Ronnie has allowed the tiny shred of power that he has been given to go to his head and create a vastly inflated sense of his own importance but for the most part, he seems amiable enough as he goes about cluelessly hitting on Brandi (Anna Faris), the sexy shopgirl who clearly isn’t interested in his awkward advances, cluelessly ignoring the flirtations of sweet-faced coffee vendor Nell (Collette Wolfe) and ordering around his subordinates--loyal assistant Dennis (Michael Penn) and twin guards John and Matt (John and Matt Yuan)--as though they were going into actual combat instead of an area where the biggest threat is ordinarily the stench from Cinnabon. All seems to be going well for Ronnie until what he perceives to be his turf is invaded by a couple of unwanted interlopers. The first is a flasher who has begun haunting the parking lot and who includes Brandi amongst his victims. The second is Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), a genuine cop who is brought in to investigate the case and who gets in Ronnie’s way with his competent approach to police work and his undisguised belief that Ronnie is an idiot. Offended that Harrison refuses to accept his help or his methods and desperate to prove himself to Brandi, Ronnie decides that he is going to single-handedly bring the flasher to justice (not to mention the person who has begun robbing the mall stores after hours) and thereby prove himself as a true hero to the both of them.

This is roughly the film promised in the ads, save for one little detail (and since I will be revealing that detail, you might want to duck out at this point if you really don’t want to know)--Ronnie is a deeply disturbed individual who may see himself as a cross between Dirty Harry and John McClane but who is actually closer to being a cross between Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin. Although we get a couple of hints of this early on in the proceedings--he devours gossip about new guns with the zeal of a geek talking about the new “Star Trek” movie and accuses an Arab mall worker () of everything from the flashing to wanting to blow up one of the mall’s most vital assets. (“Why the fuck would I want to blow up the Chik-Fil-A? It’s fucking delicious!“), the first inkling that there is something seriously wrong with Ronnie comes about 20 minutes or so into the film when Det. Harrison, fed up with Ronnie’s delusions of crime fighting greatness, strands him in the middle of a very bad neighborhood in the hopes of either teaching him a lesson or getting him killed--at this point, either one would be acceptable to him--but not only does Ronnie overcome the drug pushers that he encounters, he gives them the kind of brutal (and brutally funny) beatdowns that might have seem excessive in the likes of “Cobra.” Giddy from the rush of exhilaration that can only come from breaking someone’s bones until they actually jut out of the skin, he decides to apply to become a real cop and finally gets a dinner date with Brandi and impulsively gives her his entire supply of the anti-psychotic medication that barely keeps him at bay. Alas, he does this right before his psych evaluation for the police department and when he fails the test in spectacular fashion, that, not to mention his inability to capture the flasher and his discovery that Brandi may not love him as much as he thinks she does, finally pushes him over the edge in spectacularly (and spectacularly funny) fashion.

“Observe and Report” was written and directed by Jody Hill, the man who was also responsible for last year’s execrable “The Foot Fist Way,” one of the most painfully unfunny films that I can recall seeing. (He was also the creator of the HBO series “East Bound and Down,” a show that I never got around to watching based specifically on my loathing for “The Foot Fist Way.”) Although the two films have several elements in common--the chief one being a central character with wildly misplaced confidence in himself on both professional and personal levels--the end results are so vastly different that it is hard to believe that the same person made them. The difference is that while “The Foot Fist Way” pitched everything from the central characters stupidity to the situations in which he found himself embroiled in such broadly exaggerated terms that the whole thing felt like a garish cartoon that kept straining to remind you that it was funny, “Observe and Report” is a far more restrained effort that is actually built upon the kind of strong dramatic foundation that isn’t often encountered in most current comedies. In fact, with just a few edits here and there, Hill’s screenplay could have been the basis for a perfectly serviceable dramatic film. This helps the film enormously because comedy is usually funnier when it springs from recognizable human emotions and situations than from having everyone running around acting like loons. This low-key approach also works because when the film does launch into its deliberately outrageous set-pieces (such as Ronnie’s journey into the inner city, his drunken date with Brandi and his twisted version of a dark night of the soul), those sequences wind up making an even greater impact than they might have if it had been filled from start to finish with such moments. I also admired the fact that having set up the relatively outré premise of basing a comedy around a character who is essentially sad, pathetic and deeply disturbed, Hill has the nerve to maintain that conceit all the way through without ever once softening him up or arranging things so his flaws turn out to be virtues in the long run--he remains messed up throughout and the only real change that occurs when the people around him gradually begin to realize just how nuts he really is.

I think that another key difference between this film and “The Foot Fist Way” is that the casting of the roles has been handled far more successfully here. In “The Foot Fist Way,” Hill cast Danny McBride as his central doofus and while he is a guy who can be amusing in small doses (as he showed with his hilarious supporting turns in last summer’s “Pineapple Express” and “Tropic Thunder” and proves here with a funny cameo as a drug dealer who runs afoul of Ronnie), his one-note performance there quickly grew tiresome and killed more potentially amusing bits than it helped. On the other hand, Seth Rogen does a very impressive job of playing the character of Ronnie in such a way that those of us in the audience see him pretty much the same way that the characters on the screen do--as a schlubby, slightly clueless and easily dismissed blowhard--before letting on just how tightly wound and potentially dangerous he really is. From that point on, the role is essentially a high-wire act that could easily tip over into either outright buffoonery or outright creepiness and Rogen, in the best performance that he has given to date, keeps his balance throughout. The supporting cast is equally good at getting laughs without going overboard for them and even scoring in some of the more serious-minded bits (Collette Wolfe is really effective and strangely touching as the coffee girl with an inexplicable crush on Ronnie) but most of the biggest laughs come from Anna Faris as the ditzy and drunken girl that Ronnie wants to save. Over the last few years, Faris has developed into one of the brightest comediennes working today (I once again implore you to check out the beauty that is “The House Bunny”) and while her role here may be smaller that the trailers suggest and more overtly comedic than the others, she throws herself into the part with much gusto and demonstrates herself as both an inspired farceur and, considering some of the things she is asked to do here, an incredibly good sport. (One in particular is so far beyond the pale that I am actually surprised to see that it made the cut in a major studio release.)

At one point in “Observe and Report,” a side character looks on as Ronnie faces yet another humiliation and eventually observes, “You know, I thought this was going to be funny, but it’s actually kind of sad.” I have the sneaking suspicion that many of those going to see this film are going to come away from it feeling much the same way. However, if you have a taste for decidedly dark humor that doesn’t offer any easy outs and the stomach for some fairly extreme material (according to the MPPA, it is “Rated R for pervasive language, graphic nudity, drug use, sexual content and violence” and man, they aren’t kidding) you are likely to find it as hilarious as I did. Either way, this is a film that is pretty much destined to become a cult favorite in the next few years, so you might as well get in on the ground floor while you have the chance. In fact, it is so good and funny that as far as I am concerned, Jody Hill has officially been forgiven for “The Foot Fist Way.”

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18073&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/10/09 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/24/18 morris campbell crude but very funny 4 stars
6/11/11 Merle It was not too bad but could have been made better. 3 stars
5/26/11 Marsha Dimes Unmitigated Schlock! 1 stars
4/07/11 Josie Cotton is a goddess An underrated black-comedy that satires the stupidity of mindless machoism 5 stars
5/14/10 Dan Like a weird, violent Napoleon Dynamite. 4 stars
3/14/10 mr.mike Paul Blart becomes Travis Bickle. It doesn't work. 2 stars
3/08/10 Chocha Apretada Deelish, honey! 1 stars
1/10/10 Tekin A brilliant film.Dark disturbing funny sad take on the avarage man's quest for glory. 5 stars
9/25/09 blah really stupid, poorly put together movie. very disappointing 1 stars
6/05/09 Meredith Harshaw Nearest thing to a "good bad movie" since DUDE, WHERE IS MY CAR. 3 stars
5/06/09 Barns Loved it, miles ahead of the brainless "Mall Cop" 5 stars
4/19/09 Panocha.de.la.Vaca How ugly is Seth Rogen....UGGGGGGGGGLY! 1 stars
4/18/09 belike I think anyone who can relate to ronnies character will appreciate this film. 5 stars
4/17/09 chief boot knocka ''I use tasers and mace, fuck you!'' - great fucking movie. 5 stars
4/17/09 Kong Kardashian It wuz da bomb...Seth can boff me ne time! 4 stars
4/15/09 Ju Mex Perfect. 5 stars
4/14/09 Diarrhea Slitz What has happened to Anna Faris' face? She looks OLD! 1 stars
4/14/09 Apollo Such a horrible, stupid, waste of film. I hated it. 1 stars
4/13/09 Aesop This is like "Mall Cop", only less funny. Can we award negative stars?? 1 stars
4/12/09 John No one cares enough about this site to 'plant' a comment That's funny. 1 stars
4/11/09 Kara Ponchada What a piece of schlock! 1 stars
4/10/09 Kork.Klogz If you're the type of person who thinks "date rape" is funny, then this is the film 4 u. 1 stars
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  10-Apr-2009 (R)
  DVD: 22-Sep-2009


  DVD: 22-Sep-2009

Directed by
  Jody Hill

Written by
  Jody Hill

  Seth Rogen
  Anna Faris
  Michael Pena
  Ray Liotta
  Jesse Plemons

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