REVIEW: Observe and Report

Observe and Report
86 Minutes // USA // Warner Bros. & Legendary Entertainment
dir. Jody Hill
Wednesday, April 1st, 2009 Innis Town Hall
starring: Seth Rogen, Michael Pena & Anna Faris

Seth Rogen has been stirring up quite the reputation in the past year. From the young gunner from Freaks & Geeks would be an A-List star in 2009. I’ve heard people describe Seth as a one-note performer on many occasions, and while I may have agreed with them at the time, this film will certainly sway plenty an opinion against that statement.

Director/writer Jody Hill has put his name out there. With the low-budget The Fist Foot Way and now Observe and Report it’s apparent that Mr. Hill enjoys making films in which the main character craves recognition and are in a position of minimal authority – a perfect combination of humor. However, unlike his first film, this one has a budget with some worth. And we all know what happens when you give an ambitious director money to fulfill his ideal project – and that is, of course, something wonderful.

The story about a mall cop trying to win the love of his life may seem so two months ago, but in terms of the ‘Mall Cop’ films, these two are much different and Observe and Report is obviously the more impressive work. Paul Blart was far too kiddie and safe with its material – a genuine Hollywood PG comedy. On the other hand, Observe and Report is a dark, spontaneous and innovative comedy which will be on many a mouth come its release. With its anti-climatic surprises and surprising emotional climaxes, Observe and Report isn’t just your run of the mill comedy.

Opening on a two minute credit/man streaking people scene was quite the way to open the film. It gives you the proper viewing equipment needed to understand what type of movie you’re in for. See? This film even has entertaining credits.

Seth Rogen plays Ronnie Barnhardt, the head of mall security at Forest Ridge Mall. Jody Hill angles the opening scene wonderfully – like any good film should. Not hoping on the trailer to have given you insight to the film, the film opens with Ronnie approaching Brandi (Anna Faris) and her flamboyant co-worker Bruce (Alston Brown) with the awkward, innocent and faux arrogant presence that many insecure men have approached someone they’ve liked with. He warns her that a streaker is on the loose in the mall and that she should be very careful. Bruce replies “Should I be worried too?” and Ronnie humorously antagonizes with “Ha! Should I be worried too? Look, I’m Bruce! I’m afraid of a streaker. If anything, we should warn the streaker about you.” Right there you’ve got the main plot, insight to the main character on several levels and a spin on a gimmicky scene used in almost every sitcom. Simple but effective.

A few minutes pass by with Ronnie and his daily work habits until the enviable happens – Brandi gets flashed. The over-the-top decadence of this character is hilarious on very few levels, but Anna Faris’ vivacious portrayal of that girl we all want, but also hate is great.

This is Ronnie’s opportunity to impress Brandi with his heroics. He does so by being on the constant watch for her safety and taking her to dinner. And although it is clear that she doesn’t reciprocate or even appreciate his feelings, Ronnie is happy enough with this to be on the exceedingly happy side of his bi-polar disorder.

The film takes off from here. He creates the ‘Special Elite Task Force’ with other mall security guards in Dennis (the surprisingly hilarious Michael Pena), the twins John and Matt Yuen (playing characters named John and Matt) and a food court employee Charles (Jesse Plemons). This crew’s task: Facing off against the police force in the case of the streaker. The antagonist, Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) is the most standard and obvious character in the entire film – the only major flaw the film has – but it fits in a gimmicky way.

Ronnie often goes to a coffee shop in the mall and gets a free coffee. He meets Nell (Collete Wolfe) who is the most innocent and adorable woman you will ever lay eyes on. She and Ronnie develop some sort of a friendship, but Ronnie has his mind on Brandi far too much to even acknowledge another female. Through the connection the two have lays the more emotional scenes in the film. These are by far my favourite scenes in the film and they sport some of the best acting I’ve seen all year.

Clearly inspired by many films – Taxi Driver and Oldboy are the most mentioned that I’d agree with in some light. Deeper, deadlier and darker than you’d expect; it is one of the few comedies that could make you cry from both laughter and sympathy for the characters.

Although Seth Rogen hasn’t broken out of that pot-head type silliness yet, this is certainly a step in the right direction. Not a particularly deep role, but unquestionably his most dramatic to date. Considering how crass and aggravating the character is, it is surprising how much you will be rooting for him come the end. He falls into the shoes of Ronnie Barnhardt and loses himself in the role. By far his best performance and by far the best comedy of 2009 – if not, the decade. ***½