Get ready for a politically incorrect beat down. Observe and Report is the hardest punch-in-the-gut laugh riot in a long time, as long as you believe that a comedy isn’t required to have likeable characters. If you can make that concession, then you should know it is also probably the great white trash comedy you are going to get. Yet let’s consider finally How Unlikely Is Seth Rogen? Rogen, that couch potato schlub in perpetual frat-house attire, is the most average looking movie star working today.
Up to this point, he’s coasted along playing variances on the pot-smoking underachiever in such hits as “Knocked Up” and “Pineapple Express.” But “O&R” is the first time that Rogen has done a DeNiro and truly immersed himself into playing an anti-social character – in this case a troubled and imbalanced head security guard Ronnie Barnhardt, who patrols a typical fashion mall in New Mexico. Part of the movie’s daring is to take upon his bi-polar mental disorder and treat it halfway realistically.
Two different animals. “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” was more kid-friendly and squared in formula while “O&R” is not only liberated and anarchic but embedded in the observation of true human behavior. Ronnie, proudly donned in mall cop uniform blue, wants to break rules and procedures to crackdown on the mall’s biggest problems: an inside heist job and to capture of a nude flasher terrorizing decent women everywhere.
Ronnie has a love-hate relationship with a seasoned detective played by Ray Liotta (mostly hate) who arrives on the scene to solve these crimes. This threatens Ronnie’s sense of jurisdictional authority. On the upside, maybe Liotta can help him apply for the police academy and let him come aboard detective work too.
No schlub comedy could exist of course without the unattainable beauty. Ronnie sees Brandi (Anna Farris) as the object of obstinate beauty even though she completely is a coarse and vulgar tramp from the start – from the audience’s vantage point there is no mistake about this. In the meantime an easygoing girl named Nell (Collette Wolfe), who provides him with free coffee on a daily basis, is an ideal match who is a readily available cashier at the food court. Of course, Ronnie is utterly clueless he is to opportunities in front of him.
Personal space violations are routine for Ronnie and it stretches to extremes. Ronnie, himself a borderline stalker, coerces Brandi to come out onto a date with him and if she doesn’t, he won’t protect her from that nude perv! Ronnie goes off his meds after he is convinced he is in love with her, and as a result starts tripping to his dark side. This reveals his very hostile and belligerent underneath nature. Ronnie, with the help of co-partner Dennis (Michael Peña), starts displacing anger on anybody in available sight.
This anti-formula comedy by Jody Hill (“The Foot Fist Way”) is not only funny but startlingly aggressive. In high praise, I am reminded of Robert DeNiro playing an abrasive anti-social in “The King of Comedy.” That 1983 film, not given widespread acceptance at its time, was willing to make a troubled and disturbed character a lead protagonist. “O&R” is in the same tradition, although Ronnie Bernhardt is a friend-seeker, thus more likeable, while DeNiro’s Rupert Pupkin was strictly a loner.
A review like this cannot conclude without mention of the climactic male nudity, i.e., Ronnie versus the Flasher. We have arrived at a liberal time in our culture where male genitalia is being shown copiously (let’s validate the appropriate uses in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Borat” and scold the gratuitous uses in “Step Brothers” and “Watchmen”). “O&R” gets defensible credo for employing male nudity justifiably. The insidious satire, if you are able to pluck out any meaning, is that Ronnie – with his violent short-fuse – is just as disturbed as this pervert that has menaced the mall.
I risk being in the minority, but I see “Observe and Report” as a white-trash masterpiece, a brave satire. Time will prove me right.
BLACK COMEDY / MALE AGGRESSION / WEEKEND VIEWING DEBAUCHERY
Film Cousins: “The King of Comedy” (1983); “Bad Santa” (2003); “The Foot Fist Way” (2006); “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” (2009).