Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 9, 2009)
On paper, 2009ís Observe and Report looked like a stinker. It came from writer/director Jody Hill, the ďmastermindĒ behind the awful Foot Fist Way, it starred the seriously overexposed Seth Rogen, and it featured a plot that seemed like little more than a rehash of Paul Blart: Mall Cop. How could it not suck?
Perhaps my low expectations were a factor, but I must admit I liked Observe more than I expected. The film takes place at Forest Ridge Mall, where a chubby pervert (Randy Gambill) causes havoc: he routinely exposes himself to shoppers in the parking lot. This greatly offends chief mall security guard Ronnie Barnhardt (Rogen), who makes it his mission to stop the flasher.
Already pretty intense, he becomes even more focused when the perv traumatizes makeup girl Brandi (Anna Faris), the girl over whom he obsesses. Ronnie hopes to catch the flasher so he can prove his worth to Brandi and make her love him, even though this means he constantly butts head with police Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta).
When I indicated that I liked Observe more than I expected, I didnít mean that as a strong recommendation. I went into the film with exceedingly low expectations; indeed, I figured Iíd hate it just as much as I disliked Foot Fist Way. When Observe proved less obnoxious, that made it a relative winner.
But that doesnít mean the film excels or delights. Instead, it amuses in a moderate way and thatís about it. Given my expectations, Iíll take it, as at least Observe proves reasonably entertaining from start to finish.
Though it clearly wonít be for everyone. Observe rarely tries to ingratiate itself to the audience. It comes packed with profanity, includes flashes of violence, and boasts the most horrific scene of nudity since Borat. Actually, the skin here may be more revolting, and I never thought Iíd say that.
Even without the violence, profanity and nudity, Observe is a polarizing film just because it so rarely tries to endear itself to the viewer. Ronnie occasionally gives us minor reasons to care for him, but heís usually pretty abrasive. Except for fast food clerk Nell (Collette Wolfe), the other supporting characters tend to be unlikable as well. Indeed, the film clearly makes Brandi a self-absorbed bimbo to give Ronnie a little more humanity by contrast.
Rogen tends to have two performance modes: amiable goofball or angry jerk. He usually goes with the former and just shows flashes of the latter, but here we find the opposite. Ronnie is the kind of character we usually get from Hill collaborator Danny McBride: self-deluded, egocentric and creepy.
I suspect Hill had McBride in mind when he wrote Observe, as Ronnie definitely feels like a McBride character. Since the DVD includes no extras, Iíd guess that Rogen got the part for his moderate marquee value as well as his age; the part makes more sense with someone in his twenties, so the older McBride would make an already off-putting part even spookier.
While Iím pretty sick of him at this point, I canít quibble with Rogenís performance. In other flicks such as Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Rogenís angry side often doesnít fit his character well. Here the edge makes more sense, and in a twist, Ronnieís general abrasiveness allows his flashes of humanity to become more effective.
Not that this is a warm character piece. Observe and Report mostly exists as an outrageous piece of over the top comedy, and it occasionally succeeds. The filmís too aggressive and potentially offensive to work for a mass audience, but it provides decent entertainment for those with a darker sensibility.