Observe & Report
Review by Jack Foley
TAKEN at face value, Jody Hill’s Observe & Report sounds like just another Seth Rogen comedy star vehicle that has the dubious honour of arriving in the almost immediate aftermath of the similarly themed Kevin James vehicle Paul Blart: Mall Cop. But appearances can be deceptive.
Rather, it’s a subversive adult comedy-drama that quite frequently surprises with its audacity. It’s not that successful, but it deserves praise for at least attempting to do something a little bit different, even though it frequently leaves viewers feeling more than a little uncomfortable in the process.
Ronnie Barnhardt (Rogen) is a jobsworth shopping mall guard with mental issues [he’s bipolar] and a serious crush on Anna Faris’ make-up-counter girl. But his life is complicated by the presence of a flasher stalking the parking lot, whose reign of terror eventually forces the mall to turn to a brash police detective (Ray Liotta) to end. Ronnie, however, determines to finish the job first… with dangerous consequences.
Hill’s film may sound like a simple loner-comes-good and gets-the-girl type of scenario, but it’s a far darker beast than that. It’s even been compared to Taxi Driver in some quarters, albeit with a far more frivolous tone.
Ronnie, for instance, isn’t always a likeable central character and is frequently shown to be as unhinged as the characters surrounding him. It’s a ballsy move for Rogen, who shows the first signs in career progression into more darker, murkier territory.
Some viewers are certain to balk at humour involving date rape, murder and the beating up of kids (and there are some places that comedy shouldn’t really delve), while others will dig its subversive, renegade nature. This is far more complex a character piece than its premise initially suggests.
Where Observe & Report falters, however, is in its direction, which never seems sure on what kind of tone it’s seeking to maintain. Hill occasionally seems torn between more conventional adult humour and some of the more serious stuff and can’t bring himself to completely turn Ronnie into a Travis Bickle style sociopath. His indecision does create an air of unprectability, but also gets in the way of the smooth flow of the film and it’s hard to always be sure of its agenda.
The jokes, as ever, are also hit-and-miss, ranging from those that misfire completely to those that tip-toe the good taste boundary. Few really genuinely catch alight.
But Rogen’s decision to traverse more edgy material is to be applauded, and he copes well in the role, while Faris also appears in a far less flattering light than normal. Liotta seems content to dust off his usual high-intensity performance, but Michael Pena is sure to turn heads as one of Ronnie’s camp colleagues.
And just when you think you have its number, Hill’s film then does something completely outlandish to guarantee a new guffaw or shock reaction. The final 15 minutes, in particular, are as outrageous as they are audacious and are virtually guaranteed to leave you with a sense of “what the f**k?”
One suspects cult appeal beckons… particularly for the more comically adventurous among you.
Running time: 86mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: September 28, 2009