Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
AIR RIFLE: Seth Rogen practices his marksmanship in 'Observe and Report.'
'Observe and Report' looks for laughs in the heart of anger
By Richard von Busack
THE DIVIDED opinions on Observe and Report are probably based on the fact that it's a divided movie. Barney Fife morphing into Travis Bickle isn't a plot, it's a mashup, and Jody Hill, director of the YouTubish The Foot Fist Way, starts with a story of ordinary farce before going far darker. Ronnie (Seth Rogen) is a head case, so far into the world of illusion that he doesn't even realize it. As the badge-crazed guard at a shopping mall, he has a witless, hopeless crush on Brandi (Anna Faris), a cosmetics salesgirl. When Brandi is upset by a flasher, Ronnie takes on the case to avenge her; he is maddened by the police's more reasonable approach to the case. Assembling his funny-looking co-workers like a posse, Ronnie goes on the attack. The police, led by Ray Liotta's Det. Harrison, play a nasty prank on Ronnie, and after he at last goes on a hideo-comic date with Brandi, things get worse. Faris is the film's saving grace. Hill's catch-as-catch-can direction gives her a chance to go all the way with pop-eyed blonde venom. Faris is elongated, wearing cruel spike heels and a skirt that wouldn't make a satisfactory napkin, and O'ing her plump lips into a cartoon duck bill with surprise, wrath or perhaps just a little too much to drink. Faris is not in as much of the film as you would expect from the very well-edited advertisements. Still she displays considerable range, from whimpering shock to 3am ecstasy, ripped to the gills and dreamily feeling up Rogen's man-boobs as the two go for a swaying ride on his motorcycle. Begging some "scripts" (prescription pills), she whines girlishly, "Don't be sting-geee." It's a horrendously knowing caricature of mall girl heading to some fearful Last Call. Only someone that pretty could be so ugly. The mall itself: as flat as a painted backdrop. The Winrock Mall in Albuquerque is the location, but the film deliberately avoids any regional identification. As for Rogen, it's not that I think he's that funny, but I do respect his aggression. The closest parallel for what Rogen does is found in the career of Albert Brooks, but Rogen has been a commercial success in a way Brooks wasn't. Rogen evinces more in the way of physical threat, as in the bloody billy-club fight against 20 cops. Brooks' aggro quality resided in his own wheedling, a faux-sensitive disguising his monomania. Rogen resembles a figure from a rougher era; anyone who tried to display Brooks' me-generation shell of gentleness today would get called out as a little bitch.
Rogen's Ronnie is an insult comic and a sucker puncher whom we are supposed to feel for; his reaction to the other women is part of the film's heartlessness. It doesn't matter if the lady is demure, like the (temporary) crippled good Cinnabon girl, Nell (Collette Wolfe), with her ludicrous born-again virginity, or bad, like Celia Weston as Ronnie's drunken-slut mother whose motor skills are too shot to deliver the bucking-up a defeated young man needs to hear. Is Observe and Report a parody of cop movies or a drama? Does Hill care? Ronnie's last act of horrible over-reaction gets celebrated as a gesture that the whole world has gone dark. This movie isn't anything like consistently funny, but it's tuned to some really dark wavelength. I bet Hill has a comedy in him that could alienate absolutely everybody.
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