Observe and Report


“I believe every man has a path laid up before him. My path is a righteous one. I’ve been chosen to be the protector. In these dark times, the world has no use for another scared man. Right now, the world needs a fucking hero.”

An improbable cross between “Taxi Driver” and “Freddy Got Fingered”, “Observe and Report” has unsurprisingly divided critics. Fueled by the same kind of obsessive and unhealthy impulses as Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece and nearly as willing to alienate viewers with uncomfortable situations, extreme tone shifts and twisted humor as Tom Green’s wildly misunderstood gonzo flick, this pitch black comedy is not an easy film to like… That is, unless you relate a bit more to Travis Bickle than you’d admit openly and you appreciate the kind of laughs that hurt a little.

Seth Rogen stars as Ronnie Barnhardt, a mall security guard who dreams of becoming a real cop, but who’d settle on stopping the flasher who’s been terrorizing female customers and employees. Like the protagonists of writer-director Jody Hill‘s first film “The Foot Fist Way” and his HBO series “Eastbound & Down” (both of which were played by the great Danny McBride, who has a funny cameo here as a “Caucasian crackhead”), Ronnie starts off like a joke, then becomes increasingly pathetic and, ultimately, oddly endearing, in spite of his many, many flaws.

Here’s a man who’s overweight, possibly still a virgin, stuck in a dead-end job, living with his alcoholic mother (Celia Weston), and who’s filled with conflicting feelings of self-loathing and delusional megalomania. Like the typical Adam Sandler character or Cartman on “South Park”, Ronnie may seem like a dork, but he’s really a ticking timebomb of hatred and violence. Bipolar and borderline psychotic, Ronnie’s the kind of dude you pray you’re not around when he blows up – which happens multiple times through the course of “Observe and Report”…

Shot by David Gordon Green’s go-to D.P. Tim Orr and driven by very effective music cues (including two or three songs by Queen), “Observe and Report” can also count on a great cast, which notably includes Anna Faris as a spectacularly dumb and slutty makeup counter clerk, Michael Peña as Ronnie’s “second in command”, Ray Liotta as his police detective nemesis and Collette Wolfe as a food court employee who, not so coincidentally I presume, is physically impaired and unexplainably attracted to the protagonist in much the same way as Marisa Coughlan was in “Freddy Got Fingered”.

While part of me is sorry Jody Hill didn’t cast the McBride in the lead this time, Seth Rogen is not only a more well known commodity, he also turns out to be a more resourceful performer than we thought. After basically playing the same guy in movie after movie, here he goes to some unexpectedly raw and disturbing places. In other words, this isn’t the cuddly, boorish yet lovable Seth Rogen you’re used to see, and the film has more in common with, say, “Oldboy”, than with a Judd Apatow flick. The mall cop versus flasher plot might seem silly at first, but that’s just a small part of the story which, in the greater scheme of things, is about how so many men seem to feel emasculated and powerless in our era, and how they often try to do something about it in all the wrong ways – which can be funny, but also deeply sad…