Combustible Celluloid
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With: Seth Rogen, Ray Liotta, Michael Peña, Anna Faris, Dan Bakkedahl, Jesse Plemons, John Yuan, Matt Yuan, Celia Weston, Collette Wolfe, Randy Gambill, Alston Brown, Cody Midthunder, Debra-Jayne Brown, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride
Written by: Jody Hill
Directed by: Jody Hill
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, graphic nudity, drug use, sexual content and violence
Running Time: 86
Date: 03/16/2009

Observe and Report (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Mall of the Wild

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I imagine most critics and viewers are going to snub Observe and Report for several reasons, mainly because it doesn't contain very many obvious laughs and because it's a fairly uncomfortable and unpleasant experience. It reminded me of The Cable Guy (1996), a bright-looking Hollywood comedy about a truly dark and twisted soul whose unexpected duality cost the movie dearly in ticket buyers. In Observe and Report, Seth Rogen sheds his usually shaggy, lovable, foul-mouthed nerd for a more disturbed fellow: Ronnie Barnhardt, a mall cop with violent tendencies who dreams of becoming a real cop. His resolve is immediately put to the test when a flasher terrorizes several female shoppers and disappears. He longs to make a name for himself by catching the culprit, but the local police department dispatches a real detective, Harrison (Ray Liotta) to take care of it. Ronnie immediately sees this as a threat to his authority. At home, we learn that Ronnie takes meds for his bipolar condition, and that his mother (a freakishly good performance by Celia Weston) is a serious alcoholic -- though the movie plays all this with black humor. At work, he loves Brandi, an airhead blonde who works at the makeup counter, played to perfection by Anna Faris. But Ronnie has his real heart-to-heart talks with a coffee counter girl, Nell (Collette Wolfe), whose foot is stuck in a cast. Ronnie alternately tries to date Brandi, tries to catch the flasher as well as a burglar, and shares '70s cop movie moments with his sidekicks (Michael Pena, and twins John and Matt Yuen).

Director Jody Hill (The Foot Fist Way) punctuates all this with a steady stream of aggressive pop tunes; the film sometimes seems like a random collection of scenes, more like a barrage than a flow. And Faris, bless her heart, with her brilliant, spot-on dippy performance, gets all the immediate laughs, which makes Rogen's lack of laughs all the more apparent. But Rogen's character -- like Jim Carrey's Cable Guy -- is a sad, fascinating fellow who will deserve re-visiting and re-considering in subsequent viewings. Consider the psych evaluation he takes in consideration for police duty; once again, it's set up for laughs, but plays out as quietly, painfully awkward. As one character astutely says, "I thought this was going to be funny, but it's really just kind of sad." Unfortunately, Hill throws in a highly improbable happy ending for Ronnie, which seems to undercut everything else he was trying to say. But until then, Observe and Report gets major points for bravery, and for daring to peer into places so dark that Hollywood trembles.

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