Observe and Report is one of the vilest, most repulsive and repugnant mainstream comedies ever to luck its way into multiplexes. Every scene is more disturbing and uncomfortable than the last. Wunderkind writer/director Jody Hill has no interest in making a comedy. It’s just a bonus that his film is devilishly hilarious. No, Hill is more concerned with making the next Taxi Driver than the next Superbad. While the film is not as socially critical as the former, or as funny as the latter, it succeeds in being (at the very least) the best Mall Cop movie of 2009.
Seth Rogen completely sheds his lovable-schlub image to star as Ronnie Barnhardt, a bi-polar shopping center security guard with delusions of grandeur. Armed with a baton, taser and a dangerously loyal group of underlings, he stalks his territory with unearned arrogance and a latent thirst for blood. He’s already submitted the paperwork for permission to bring a gun to work. This is not a good idea.
Ronnie’s meaningless existence begins to take shape when a pervert starts flashing women in the parking lot. If Ronnie can catch this flasher, maybe he can finally prove himself to all his doubters. This includes Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), the police officer assigned to the case, and Brandi (Anna Faris), the sordid make-up counter girl. What follows is a horrifying series of events that is both hilarious and virtually impossible to watch. Seeing our hero shoot up in the toilets and then go beat up a bunch of skater punks is not something that happens in every film. The sad thing is, Ronnie is very much a commentary of the heroes we normally adore. He’s a disturbed vigilante who answers to no-one, uses extreme force, and is not above betraying the rights of others. Sorry Christian Bale, this is the real Dark Knight.
It’s hard to believe that this is the same Seth Rogen we all know and love. That big ol’ huggable bear with the warm laugh is nowhere to be found in Observe and Report. Instead we have Ronnie, who discusses guns in a frighteningly descriptive way, threatens to shoot children in the face and arguably engages in date-rape. Are you sure this is B.O.B from Monsters vs. Aliens? Ronnie is demented all right, but to Rogen’s credit, he never becomes a caricature, or even particularly unlikable. You want him to succeed in his quest, even though he literally makes the wrong decision at every possible juncture.
Jody Hill proves to be one of the most exciting filmmakers of the moment. His previous film, The Foot Fist Way (still unreleased in Australia) shared similar themes of delusional success, but felt flat and visually unengaging. If his feature film debut looked like Clerks, than Observe and Report looks like There Will Be Blood. Hill, along with Pineapple Express-cinematographer Tim Orr, makes the camera move in ways you just do not see in a comedy. The pitch-perfect soundtrack also contributes to the film’s signature flair. I recall at least three wonderfully executed scenes, even if the content was absolutely disgusting. I can say with utmost certainty that this film features the best ever sequence of a fat, naked man running in slow-motion to the music of The Pixies.
Anna Faris shows off her impeccable comic timing once again, although I just wish she could be given a leading role that would cater to her talents, instead of forcing her to elevate one-dimensional characters. Aziz Ansari almost steals the film as a sleazy, lotion salesman named Saddam, whilst Michael Pena is virtually unrecognisable as Ronnie’s seriously unstable partner Dennis. All in all, the cast are excellent, the filmmaking is impressive (if a little oddly paced) and the picture as a whole is incredibly entertaining. But Observe and Report is not for everyone, which might be the biggest understatement I’ve ever made in a review. I cannot emphasise enough just how bizarre and unsettling this picture is. In fact, if you enjoy this film, it might just be time to examine the stability of your own psychological wellbeing. I loved Observe and Report, and that’s a terrifying reality I have to deal with.