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Frat Pack Tribute Movie Review: Observe and Report

by Drew Hunt, Senior Editor

Well... Paul Blart: Mall Cop it ain’t.

Dark, unflinching, and sadistic, Observe and Report is no Kevin James farce. There are no pratfalls. No fart jokes. No segways. But there is violence. And graphic nudity. And illicit drug use. And it’s hilarious.

Seth Rogen stars as Ronnie Barnhardt, the head of security at an undisclosed shopping center. When a perverted flasher begins exposing himself to women in the parking lot, Ronnie vows to capture the thief himself (without the aid of local police). When the pervert assaults Brandi (Anna Fairs), resident floozy and the object of Ronnie’s affection, he kicks his mission into overdrive. What follows is a twisted foray into the mind of a bipolar sociopath – a ride that is equal parts disturbing and hilariously rewarding.

Director and writer Jody Hill has shown his penchant for foul-mouthed, left-of-center humor. His previous endeavors also feature manic, indulgent anti-heroes with little to root for. Whether it’s Fred Simmons of Foot Fist Way or Kenny Powers of the HBO hit series Eastbound and Down, the protagonists in Hill’s word aren’t exactly the guy we’d support in everyday life.

Yet therein lies the appeal of his young body of work – to view the world through the eyes of the underbelly of humanity provides not only an escape, but a means to experience something primal. Because while this is a comedy first and foremost, there’s no questioning that Rogen has tapped into a sort of suburban Travis Bickle – a man who lives on the fringe of society yet retains an unjustified sense of righteousness. The media has made national sensations out of these types (from the Virginia Tech. shooter to the DC snipers), and cinema has followed suit – albeit in a different manner.

In Observe and Report, Hill gives us no reason to like Ronnie. There’s no reason to ever, once, sympathize with his plight. Yet we want to see him continue – not necessarily see him succeed, but see him barrel down his path of self-aggrandizing glory. Which is, essentially, what any moviegoer wishes to see. As Ronnie says himself: “The world has no need for another scared man. What the world needs now is an fucking hero.” And like any good hero, Ronnie is uncompromising in his convictions.

His convictions just happen to be boning blond bimbos and brutally punishing criminals.

All of which to say, the film is hilariously sinister with plenty to like. The cast is quite strong, with uproarious turns from Aziz Ansari, Ray Liotta, and Michael Pena (Ronnie’s right-hand man, who posses the desired skill of being able to “drink out of a volcano”).

As Hill continues to show great prowess as a filmmaker, his dark style will continue to find footing. His voice does indeed seem to be a bleak one – but one that inspires deep, deep belly laughs. Sometimes the pains and miseries of others are the funniest bits of all.

*****

by Rick Duran, Senior Editor

In Jody Hill’s second directorial effort, Observe and Report, Seth Rogen stars as a shopping mall security guard whose delusions of grandeur are multiplied when a flasher terrorizes the location’s women. Hill continues the dark, self-loathing patterns of his Foot Fist Way directing debut and HBO series Eastbound and Down, creating a comedy whose tone might be described as Quentin Tarantino directing the last half-hour of Anchorman. The end result is a brilliant piece of filmmaking that will sharply divide audiences, while Rogen delivers the best performance of his career.

Rogen stars as Ronnie Barnhardt, a man with no sense of self-awareness, prone to alienating everyone who doesn’t share his world view. As the head of mall security, Ronnie heads a team of misfit security guards, including a hysterical Michael Peña who plays Dennis, a sleazy, lisping living in a daze. After the mall security team fails to catch both an overnight robber and the flasher’s 2nd appearance, Detective Harrison (a pitch-perfect Ray Liotta) is brought in to finish what security could not. This sets Ronnie world into a tailspin, especially after Harrison begins to console flashed victim Brandi (Anna Faris), the mall’s ditsy, self-absorbed cosmetics girl.

That very tailspin is what sets Observe and Report apart from most mainstream studio comedies. The film is very violent, glorifying Ronnie’s gun worship (in fact, its surprising that the violence wasn’t more controversial than the much-discussed 10 second unconscious sex scene.) From a dark night-time encounter with a street drug-dealer (an almost unrecognizable Danny McBride) to a drugged out parking lot rampage on the local skateboarders, all the way to the film’s very violent third act, Observe and Report’s action has a much darker tone than last year’s frantic-yet-lighthearted Pineapple Express. This is where Jody Hill brings out the best in Seth Rogen. With his gravelly voice and straight-browed cold stare, Rogen delivers a vigillante-like performance of a man whose misunderstanding of the world has created a sleeping giant, one who is unlocked when off his bipolar medication.

What will throw some viewers off is the film’s bi-polar (wink-wink) shift from broad comedy, such as Anna Faris’ typecasted performance, to cold-hearted reality, such as McBride’s cameo which is more frightening than comedic. In fact, many viewers will fail to find any redeeming qualities in Ronnie, whose racist characterizations of mall employees and arrogant responses to adoring wheelchair-assisted food court employee Nell (a charming turn by newcomer Collette Wolfe) make us forget the loveable lug from Knocked Up. This is where Hill utilizes the film’s most off-the-wall performance, Ronnie’s alcoholic mother played by Celia Weston, to showcase the humility of the film’s protagonist. Ronnie lives a lonely life, one that made him oblivious to outside opinions of himself. We empathize with him during the quiet moments in his home because ultimately, he just wants to be someone great. He’s a servant taking care of his mother, and his intentions are to serve the people… as long as he can carry a gun, of course.

Observe and Report never gives us completely warm-hearted resolutions. Take that as a spoiler if you must. There are several charming moments, but only as far as this demented comedy will allow. The script never gets lazy; it always remembers the misfit that its story truly is. The film’s R-Rated content goes just past the edge most comedies are willing to go. The violence and drugs are more graphic than anything in Pineapple Express; the frontal nudity is more disturbing (and slower) than Forgetting Sarah Marshall. And this is the world where Ronnie hails from; the bleak, depressing realities we turn to movies to escape from. That is the film’s ultimate message: life is ugly and disappointing, creating a Ronnie Barnhardt inside all of us. One that we hope never escapes. For these reasons, Observe and Report will never be a box office splash like we’d expect from Seth Rogen, for all the very reasons that makes it one of the best comedies of the decade. The film combines a setting similar to Office Space, with dark moments similar Fight Club, and will undoubtedly become a cult classics on DVD like those two films. Just like Ronnie, Observe and Report is a misfit whose greatness will take a long time to be proven to the masses.

*****