“Observe and Report:” Only If You Can Take It
That’s right; the MacGuffin for Seth Rogen’s latest comedy, “Observe and Report,” is an overweight man exposing himself to various women. In the long run, however, writer-director Jody Hill (“The Fist Foot Way”) uses the 90-minute film to tell a hilarious, uncomfortable and brutal story of a bipolar mall cop coming to terms with his position in life. This is not exactly the Judd Apatow-produced material in which we are used to seeing Rogen, but due in part to his charmingly insecure performance, “Observe and Report” comes away an unabashedly hilarious film worthy of the attention of anyone that can handle its subject matter.
Ronnie Barnhardt (Rogen) likes to fancy himself as the thin blue line between justice and anarchy in the Forest Ridge Mall; that is, until his inability to catch the aforementioned flasher forces the mall security department to bring in headstrong police, Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta.) Working with Harrison brings out Barnhardt’s desire to become a full-fledged police officer, and he vows to capture the streaker before the real police do. Mixed in between Ronnie’s mission is his infatuation with make-up counter girl Brandi (Anna Faris), his casual coffee relationship with a cinnamon bun shop cashier (Collete Wolfe) and his friendship with fellow security officer Dennis (Michael Pena).
Fantastic performances abound across the entire film, from Liotta’s straight-man to Pena’s adorable lisp, but it’s Rogen and his two female counterparts that carry most of the film. Anna Faris somehow turns from a caustic, unlikeable bitch into a believable love interest, and Wolfe’s Nell is achingly pitiable with her broken leg, abusive boss and gigantic heart.
But unsurprisingly, it’s Rogen’s restrained, uncharacteristically deep take on Barnhardt that makes the film worth watching. The funny man reaches the deepest he has in his career to bring out the subtle idiosyncrasies of bipolar disorder and depression while never failing to be funny.
You may be wondering if the film is actually funny, but it’s very much so. Rogen’s rambling improvisation skills make their anticipated appearance, and the witty dialogue whips and overlaps between characters with a razor-sharp speed rarely seen in modern comedy. Be warned, however: Though the film is incredibly funny, a lot of viewers won’t stay long enough to appreciate it. ‘Report’ begins about 40 yards away from mainstream comedy’s comfort zone and never stops running. Murder-rape jokes are common, and you’ll see more penis in the last five minutes of the film than in most gay soft-core porn tapes, during a chase scene between Ronnie and the streaker that is worthy of contending against Borat’s naked wrestling scene. Even the most insensitive amongst us will feel uncomfortable at where the film goes.
Sitting through the film is rewarding on many levels, though, thanks to the all-around fantastic cast, including extended cameos by an orgasmically funny Patton Oswalt and Danny McBride, not to mention Celia Weston as Ronnie’s unashamedly drunk mother.
The fight scenes, once you get over the randomness of their appearances, are brutal in their choreographed rhythm and cinematography that you almost wish you could see an enraged Ronnie face off against Watchmen’s Rorschach, their fighting style so frantically similar.
“Observe and Report” is brutal, cynical and absolutely hilarious. Not everyone will be able to take Hill’s intensely uncomfortable brand of comedy, but for those that try, what awaits is a surprisingly bleak, well-shot character profile film filled with wonderful performances and consistent, unapologetic humor. You won’t be messing with mall security ever again.