Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Observe and Report" (2009)

"Observe and Report" (2009)
Starring Seth Rogen, Ray Liotta and Anna Farris
Written and Directed by Jody Hill

I'm a little unsure how to feel about "Observe and Report."  That may have something to do with its odd promotional campaign which attempted to paint it as the next 'Superbad'-style comedy from Seth Rogen.  Instead, "Observe and Report" is actually a rather dark comedy, full of uncomfortably dysfunctional characters and situations.  Now, I knew going in that it wasn't going to be what the advertisements said; I'd read enough about the movie to know that it was a bit more serious than that.  So the problem isn't so much with expectations as it is with... I'm just not sure what to make of the movie itself.

Rogen stars as Ronnie, head of security at a shopping mall.  He fancies himself a big fish, getting free coffee in the food court, ruling his security staff with an iron fist, and so forth.  He also has a crush on Brandi (Anna Farris), the ditsy makeup girl at the department store.  One day, a man in a trench coat flashes a number of women in the parking lot, and Ronnie sees his chance to prove to the world that he's not just some random mall security guard.

This description might read like a rough draft of "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" but it ends up going somewhere else - the rush of being involved in a real police investigation, being interviewed on the news, gives Ronnie the energy to attempt to become a real police officer.  He trains hard and aces his tests, much to the chagrin of Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), the man in charge of the mall flasher case.  Harrison can't stand Ronnie, and does his best to sabotage Ronnie's entrance into the police academy.

It seems like the parts of Ronnie's life are coming together.  He builds a warm, friendly relationship with an injured girl working at the coffee shop in the food court, eventually gets to date (and screw) Brandi, and seems to have a good shot at becoming a real police officer.

That's when "Observe and Report" throws its curveball - Ronnie is mentally unstable.  Desperate to impress Brandi, he gives her his bi-polar meds, and kicks the habit completely.  Unfortunately, this leads him to fail his psych evaluation to get into the police academy and his life crumbles around him.  His best friend on his team turns out to be a serial robber that Ronnie had been unable to catch for months.  The flasher is still evading him.  He's become the laughing stock of the police force... and Brandi, it turns out, has been screwing Harrison behind Ronnie's back.

For a dark comedy, there's a lot more darkness in "Observe and Report" than there is comedy.  Ronnie's deterioration is nearly as creepy to watch as Vincent D'Onofrio's Private Pyle in "Full Metal Jacket."  You feel bad for him at first, but eventually when Ronnie begins to lash out at people who have always been nice to him, it gets incredibly uncomfortable.  By the time the film's climax rolls around, and Ronnie has a final confrontation with the flasher, it's hard not to be outright disturbed by Ronnie's actions.

The film is funny, sure, but it probably needs to be a little bit funnier.  It's just funny enough that you know its a comedy, but the disturbing parts overwhelm.   It's a question of balance, really, and something feels very wrong about "Observe and Report" because of this.  Rogen gives a fine performance, and it's a nice turn for him after playing so many loveable goofball roles in the last few years.  Liotta, of course, does his thing as a douchey detective.  Farris is hilarious, as usual, but by the end of the movie, even her character is utterly unlikeable... not that she was all that great to begin with.

So I'm mixed on "Observe and Report."  There's a lot of great stuff here, but the uneven tone makes the movie seem inconsistent, like it's quite sure what it wants to be.  As a depressing character study of a mall security guard, it's fairly fascinating, and the performances are winners.  As a comedy, it's hard to recommend, though there are plenty of bits of pure gold in here.