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New Review: Observe and Report

April 16, 2009

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Observe and Report is dark, bitter, and surprisingly brilliant. Since the announcement of the film, I wondered if it could hold up on its own merit, being released so soon after Paul Blart: Mall Cop. But anyone who takes the time to see this movie will quickly realize, this is no farcical comedy. This is Seth Rogen coming into his own as an actor.
It’s been ten years since we first met Rogen as Ken in the short-lived but long-loved Freaks and Geeks. Rogen came into the spotlight after Superbad and Knocked Up fame two years ago, even though he had some small but classic roles in Anchorman and 40-year Old Virgin.

Since then he has kept busy both in front and behind the scenes, doing voice work for The Spiderwick Chronicles, Horton Hears a Who, Kung Fu Panda and Monsters Vs Aliens and in front of the camera in Fanboys, Pineapple Express, Zack and Miri Make a Porno and now Observe and Report.

He’s having a busy couple of years, but it is not until Observe and Report that we see Rogen has quite more range than the funny stoner guy we’ve come to love.

In fact, as mall-cop Ronnie Barnhardt, Rogen plays the central character that we quickly hate. Barnhardt suffers from delusions of grandeur, yes similar to Paul Blart – and yet quite different. In Jody Hill’s version, Barnhardt is bipolar, racist, explosively dangerous and deals with an alcoholic mother. He has dreams of getting the girl and being the hero, all involving saving the case of the parking lot flasher. Only problem is the real police, in the form of Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), quickly take over the case.

The film is not without its flaws. Michael Pena’s character as the best friend is wasted, figuratively and literally, and while the cameos with Aziz Ansari and Patton Oswalt are fun, we could have used more of them to be fleshed out. Instead they seem conveniently placed as tools for Barnhardt to beat down. But then so is Danny McBride’s character (listed as Caucasian Crackhead) and the scene works as it undercuts comedic expectations. Another small role that works well in this is Matthew and John Yuan’s security cop Asian twins.

And while Anna Faris is getting all the attention for a controversial drunken date-rape scene, it’s Fist Foot Way star Collette Wolfe’s character I am concerned for as Nell ends up being Barnhardt’s real love interest after the distraction of trashy, bubblegum-popping Brandi (Faris). Her inability to take abuse from her coworker does not bode well for a relationship with a bipolar maniac, but such is mall dating. And while the “date rape” scene has gotten much attention, I think once you see it in the context of the characters, you will see that it works and is not what you may be expecting from hearing the word’s “date rape.”

If the above words didn’t clue you in, let me say this is not your usual studio-fare comedy. Instead, Hill’s comedy borders on cruel, yet in a flash he redeems himself with a sensitive portraiture of the characters who could easily be anyone in a mall across America right now. In a pivotal moment of the story a character leaves a scene saying, “I thought this was going to be funny, but it’s just kind of sad.”

And we get that. What we are being shown is comedy tinged with something a little too honest, a little too close to brutality to be funny. But it is like watching the kid in school who always gets picked on trip and fall down the stairs. Its wrong but you laugh, because at least its not you. Sure, it makes you feel guilty immediately after, but no one ever said comedy always has to be just a joke on the screen, sometimes the joke is on how far will you go as an audience member? What will you accept as comedy, no matter how volatile? Sometimes, the only real response is to laugh, and Observe and Report allows you to do just that.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2009 12:39 am

    I was reading aout that rape scene, but for me, is irrelevant to the movie itself.

  2. April 16, 2009 8:47 am

    great review and great blog!

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