Observe and Report comes hot on the heels of January’s box office champ Paul Blart: Mall Cop. On the surface they have a lot in common. Both center on suburban mall security guards with something to prove. Both star funny chubby guys who first made their mark on television and both feature blonde love interests. But as similar as they may be at first glance, Paul Blart and Observe and Report are as similar as apples and oranges. Imagine comparing The Three Stooges to Woody Allen and you get the idea.
Seth Rogen, in what will likely be his last heavy-weight film role, as he has now slimmed down for his part in The Green Hornet, plays mall security guard, er… make that Forest Ridge Mall “Head of Security” Ronnie Barnhardt. He’s a stickler for the rules, dreaming of the day when he can trade up and turn in his flashlight for a policeman’s gun. When a flasher begins terrorizing the mall Ronnie sees it as a chance to go from zero to hero, show his cop chops, earn a spot at the police academy and, as an added bonus, impress Brandi (Anna Faris), a hot, but bubble-headed make-up counter clerk at the mall. “This disgusting pervert may be the best thing that has ever happened to me,” he says. The only thing in his way is the surly Detective Harrison of the Conway Police (Ray Liotta) a motivated cop who is determined to break the case before Ronnie does.
Observe and Report was written and directed by Jody Hill, a relative newcomer who has quickly become Hollywood’s new King of Crude. In this film and his controversial HBO series Eastbound & Down Hill has established a reputation for envelope pushing. No joke is too offensive, no situation too outrageous.
Bad behavior is his canvas and Observe and Report is his masterpiece, his Mona Lisa.
This is not only probably one of the darkest comedies ever made, but also one of the most foul-mouthed and surprising. Think of Paul Blart: Mall Cop as directed by Sam Peckinpah with the action scenes staged by Martin Scorsese and you’ll have an idea of the tone of the film.
The lovable Seth Rogen of Knocked Up and The Forty Year Old Virgin is gone, replaced by a dead eyed borderline psycho who takes himself too seriously and is messed up enough to fail the police academy’s psyche test. It’s a strange and inspired performance that shows off his range, but isn’t for everyone.
I overheard two women at the screening sighing with relief that they didn’t pay for their own tickets. “I liked him so much better when he was with Kathyrn Heigl,” one moaned, pining for the days before Rogen turned into Norman Bates.
Any movie that bills itself as a comedy and yet gives second billing to Ray Liotta—the intense star of Goodfellas—is going to be dark, but Observe and Report redefines comedy noir, from Rogen and Anna Faris’s horrifying love scene to its violent finale, it is one of a kind. Not for everyone, but with show stopping work from Faris and an unexpected comedic performance from the usually very serious Michael Peña—“Sometimes I drink out of the volcano,” he says—it should please fans of extreme humor.
In other words, if you enjoyed Paul Blart: Mall Cop, then stay away from Observe and Report.