Directed by: Jody Hill
Premise: A power tripping mall security guard (Seth Rogan) takes a stand when a flasher prowls the mall parking lot. His ego and delusions of grandeur inflate as incidents continue, making him increasingly violent and unstable.
What Works: Observe and Report is an attempt at dark comedy and it allows its actors to give some performances that are worth noting. The first is Seth Rogan as Ronnie; Rogan breaks from his loveable slacker routine to play a character who is darker and more intense than anything else the actor has yet done. Anna Faris plays Brandi, a cosmetics counter girl who is the object of Ronnie’s desire, and she is extremely well cast in the role. Faris’ ability to take the cute but shallow valley girl and then find the disgusting part of her character demonstrates a willingness to push boundaries that few contemporary actresses in mainstream cinema would aspire to. Collette Wolfe plays Nell, a food court employee who is very sweet and vulnerable and her performance lends the film some badly needed moments of humanity.
What Doesn’t: Observe and Report is an attempt at black comedy and is quite clearly inspired by Taxi Driver. If a comedic spin on Taxi Driver sounds odd, that’s because it is and the film never quite finds a way to handle the material. To its credit, the film has guts and pushes the boundaries of the R-rated comedy even further than they have been by filmmakers such as Judd Apatow and Matt Stone and Trey Parker. However, this film just isn’t funny. For long periods the story lags without doing much and when it does go for comedy a lot of it comes off as either sad or creepy. The trouble is rooted in the film’s approach. It is telling an unusual story with usual methods and that simply does not work. Observe and Report should have taken cues from Clerks, Dr. Stranglove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Waiting for Guffman, American Psycho, or even Natural Born Killers to figure out how to deal with these characters and situations. Because it does not do that, Observe and Report ends up in a limbo between satire and slapstick comedy where very little is funny and a lot is just sad.
Bottom Line: The filmmakers behind Observe and Report have guts but their audacity is not matched by their execution. On deeper inspection (or maybe just speculation) it may be that the filmmakers intended to create a movie about the superficiality of the mall culture or about the subjective nature of heroism but the film just doesn’t get there and the result is a very ugly picture.
Episode: #236 (April 16, 2009)