Thursday, December 19, 2013

Observe and Report - 2009

"Observe and Report" - 2009
Dir. by Jody Hill - 1 hr. 26 min.

Red Band Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

In the summer of 2009, there were two movies about mall cops.  Maybe the idea had just reached the boiling point, maybe it was mere coincidence.  But the two movies couldn't have been more different.  "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" was another instance of Kevin James underachieving (and I like him, and think he's funny.  I just wish he'd do a movie that wasn't a waste of his comedic talents).  "Observe and Report" was just plain messed up.  F'd up, even.  I'm trying so hard not to drop an f-bomb here, but it would be entirely appropriate.  "Observe and Report" is not some cuddly, sight-gag laden Adam Sandler production.  As one of the characters states, mid hard-drug bender, "I ain't going to lie to you, Ronnie, there is nothing good about this at all."

The Ronnie in question is Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen), head of mall security.  He's the sort of guy who pushes to be allowed to carry actual firearms while working, and gets mad when the actual cops show up to do their job.  In this instance, it's because of a flasher, who keeps returning, and eventually traumatizes the girl that Ronnie has a crush on, Brandi (Anna Faris), who is a hot mess of a make-up counter girl at the mall's department store.  Ronnie and Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) immediately butt heads, but Ronnie finally sees that he wants to be more than just a mall cop, he wants to be a real cop.  When that falls through, Ronnie has to return to working the mall, which is another straw on the straw heap.

I guess the first thing that you'd have to understand that calling this a "dark comedy" would be understating things a bit.  "Observe and Report" is literally watching the world poke a mentally unstable, aggressive man with a chip on his shoulder with a stick, over and over again.  Writer/director Jody Hill has done another movie you might not have seen (the excellent "The Foot Fist Way"), and co-created an HBO series you might have seen, "Eastbound and Down."  But if you've seen either of those, you'd understand the tone of this film.  Seth Rogen is perfect for this role (it's before he slimmed down a bit), he's got enough of a physical presence that when he gets aggressive or a little unhinged, you can feel the danger.  And indeed, there are a couple of scenes where he ends up in fights, and more than holds his own.  Whether he was right in the first place is another matter, but he's no quitter.

In terms of the story, it's unfortunate that Ronnie is in a situation where he has no positive role models.  His co-workers aren't any smarter than he is, and Dennis (Michael Pena) actively leads him down the wrong road.  His mother is a blackout drunk, and the one person in the entire world who even kind of has his act together, Detective Harrison, takes an immediate disliking to Ronnie, going so far as abandoning him in the worst neighborhood in the town, just to amuse himself.  In terms of the cast, there's a lot of talent here.  Anna Faris is totally committed to her alcoholic, pill-popping, party girl with puffed up lips.  Michael Pena is a riot; seeing him in any position of authority is practically a sacrilege to the uniform he's in, which should tell you how scuzzy he is here.  Ray Liotta's great at yelling at people, and he has a lot of opportunities to do so.  Aziz Ansari even has a small part that he wrings a lot out of.

Probably the best scene of the movie is one where Det. Harrison invites Ronnie down to the police station to break the news that Ronnie didn't pass the psychological test, and couldn't be a cop.  But first, Harrison invites one of his co-workers to hide in his closet to listen in.  Halfway through breaking the news, the co-worker just walks out of the closet, and says that the whole thing wasn't funny, but sad, so he was leaving.  He doesn't even wait for Ronnie to leave, he just walks.  That seems to be the aim of the movie.  Ronnie doesn't get any of the best lines, he's no saint, nothing breaks his way, but he dusts himself off and perseveres, and he wins that way.  Even when he's doing things he probably shouldn't do, he's still sympathetic.  That's what makes this dark, dark comedy work, and makes it funny, instead of depressing.  Sometimes you can win just by not quitting, which is a pretty realistic message to offer.

3.5 / 5 - Blu-Ray

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