16 October 2009

Movie Review: Observe and Report


B+

Observe and Report
2009, 86mins, R
Director: Jody Hill
Writer: Jody Hill
Cast includes: Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Ray Liotta, Michael Peña, Collette Wolfe
Release Date: 10th April 2009

“Observe and Report” is a gutsy motion picture, a mall based comedy far removed from the mediocre world of Paul Blart. Instead of sickeningly broad fat guy jokes Jody Hill and Seth Rogen have concocted a truly memorable and occasionally demented comedic offering, certainly for the latter it provides a change of pace that can only be good for his career. The film does gun pretty heavily in terms of raunchy humor and even male nudity, yet there’s an underlying emotional resonance and bizarrely intriguing story here, that of a man who through his own suspect mental condition has ideas far beyond his humble station.

Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) is the head of mall security and so when a perverted flasher starts terrorizing the premises and the woman he’s infatuated with, Brandi (Anna Faris), Ronnie decides to take the matter into his own hands. Defying Police Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) at every turn, Ronnie and his band of misfit Mall cops proceed with a probing investigation into the pervert’s identity. As his determination grows Ronnie also chases Brandi and attempts to overcome his bi-polar condition in order to attain his own dream of becoming an actual officer of the law.

Seth Rogen’s performance in “Observe and Report” is fantastic, the actor bravely moving outside of his comfort zone to deliver a comedically assured yet darkly intriguing portrait of a very confused individual. The movie has been heavily criticized for not providing the audience with an engaging central figure, I found no such qualm, Rogen’s turn isn’t always likable but it’s consistently interesting and twisted. The character has a dark side induced via his mental instability, yet beneath that he’s actually quite a tender and loving man, albeit one who takes his own minor contribution to the world far too seriously. Supporting performances are primed more for laughs than anything else and represent a mixed bag at best. Anna Faris is very good in all her scenes though I would debate she isn’t given enough screen time, sadly in contrast Ray Liotta is pretty dull and seems to be involved rather to frequently. As Ronnie’s right hand man Michael Peña gives it a good old college try but ultimately grates more than he entertains with his series of whining one liners and insipid slapstick interludes.

For director/writer Jody Hill “Observe and Report” is a vast improvement over his last feature, the wasteful and largely overrated “The Foot Fist Way”. Both films share a central character who exhibits weak social skills and a sense of illogical self worth but “Observe and Report” offers better jokes and more depth. The film solicits a very credible number of laugh worthy exchanges but more tellingly takes time to understand Ronnie, allowing the audience to see everything from his delusional yet well intentioned perspective. A subplot involving Rogen and a crippled Mall employee (played splendidly by Collette Wolfe) adds a welcome layer of extra meat to the films bones, and in many ways represents all that is right with this endeavor. The scenes involving the two are often funny yet they maintain a whole heartedness and silky tone, Ronnie unable to notice that the best thing in the Mall is right under his nose.

“Observe and Report “doesn’t pull its punches and at its darkest provides filmmaking on a borderline psychotic level, certainly a notch bleaker than most other mainstream fare. The movie pokes and prods the concept of mental illness whilst designing comic set-pieces around the idea of sex in which one party is drugged out of their head and the brutal beating of some mischievous skateboarding teens. The movie won’t appeal to all demographics and should be actively shielded from some, “Observe and Report” warranting its R rating and wearing it on its crazed sleeve for the duration. Even those accustomed to the raunchy yet ultimately huggable Apatow brand of comedy might find elements of this picture overly brazen and hard to stomach.

I enjoyed the film heartily and at 86 minutes it’s a simple pill to swallow, Hill pacing the picture competently and avoiding the self indulgences that many an inexperienced director has succumbed to. Visually it’s relatively plain but that doesn’t taint proceedings much, a great Rogen performance and some wonderfully ambitious comedy making “Observe and Report” an intriguing and recommended viewing experience.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

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