It’s been approximately a day and a half since I watched Jody Hill’s Observe and Report, and I’m still attempting to figure out what the point of the movie is. This has been complicated by the fact that I’ve simultaneously been purging any memory I have of the film. The movie is forgettable to start with, but I’d like to think that my brain is in the middle of some sort of survival reflex in an attempt to wash away the bad taste the experience left me with.
Observe and Report is, actually, noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, there’s a good chance that Seth Rogen’s overexposure has reached its tipping point—not to mention that the latent smarminess that usually accompanies his screen persona has finally come into full bloom. Secondly, this might be the first comedy in the history of film to be completely and utterly devoid of any sort of joke or gag. Instead, what passes as humor is just wave upon wave of juvenile vulgarity. I’ve seen more clever writing on the stall of a truck-stop bathroom.
The setup is simple. Rogen plays Ronnie Barnhardt, a bipolar mall-security guard who lives with his promiscuous, alcoholic mother (Celia Wilson, The Invasion) and carries around an unrequited love for a department-store cosmetics-counter girl (Anna Faris, making her role in Scary Movie (2001) look pretty damned exquisite). It’s not until a flasher (Randy Gambill) starts terrorizing the mall and a series of robberies crop up that Ronnie sees his chance to become a hero, with the only obstacle in his way being a local detective (Ray Liotta) who’s also on the case. Throw in a couple of Queen songs (c’mon, hasn’t Freddie Mercury been through enough at this point?) before devolving into aimless Taxi Driver (1976) territory, and there’s the movie.
If it all sounds like an R-rated Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009), that’s because it is. The only difference really lies in Kevin James’ Paul Blart being of the lovable-oaf variety, while Rogen’s Ronnie is one of the most detestable characters to grace the silver screen in some time. A violent, racist, antisocial doofus, Ronnie’s the type of unpleasant, creepy person you’d burn a path to avoid in real life, making paying $9 to watch a movie about the guy just that much more perplexing.
In fact, none of the characters has any redeeming qualities. Even the one who comes across as halfway sympathetic—a sweet-natured “born-again virgin” (Collette Wolf, Four Christmases) who works the counter of a cinnamon-bun stand—is probably in need of severe psychiatric counseling for ever taking a liking to Ronnie. Hill, who wrote and directed this mess, seems more intent on parading around his cast of grotesque miscreants for the simple sake of mockery than ever showing any sort of sympathy towards them or making anything the viewer might give a damn about.
A handful of critics have praised Observe and Report for its willful ugliness, mistaking its repulsiveness for “edginess.” I found the movie to be simply obnoxious, juvenile and just plain old dumb. The movie can’t even muster the tact, energy or chutzpah to be honestly controversial. Rated R for pervasive language, graphic nudity, drug use, sexual content and violence.