Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dark, twisted "Observe and Report" has some laughs



Observe and Report (2009) 
86 min., rated R.
Grade: C +

"Observe and Report," a wildly twisted, occasionally funny but uneven charcoal-black comedy, would probably be the result if Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." Think in the vein of 2003's hilariously nasty but surprisingly human "Bad Santa," 1983's "The King of Comedy," and 1976's "Taxi Driver." Like Paul Blart, Seth Rogen is a mall security guard who takes his job way too seriously, wants to be a police officer, and has the hots for a mall clerk. And that is where the surface similarities of that benign PG-rated movie and the dark, proudly perverse "Observe and Report" meet a distinct end. 

The All-American Teddy Bear as of late, otherwise known as Seth Rogen, plays Ronnie Barnhard, head of security at the Forest Ridge Mall who's a borderline sociopath with bipolar disorder, making him delusional and quite the a-hole. But he lusts after dippy, collagen-lipped cosmetics consultant Brandi, played by the brilliant Anna Faris. So when a heavyset flasher “terrorizes” the parking lots of Forest Ridge and exposes himself to Brandi, wannabe cop Ronnie becomes a hysterically shocked Brandi's knight in shining armor, using it as a way to her heart. When a smug cop (a suitably oily Ray Liotta) comes in to assist, Ronnie tries to prove he'll catch the perve, even if he won't pass the psychological testing to be a cop. 

Writer-director Jody Hill (of 2006's "The Foot Fist Way" with Danny McBride) sure gets brownie points for giving his film a subversive edge and mean streak, and having the guts to not play it so safe for a mainstream release. That being said, it definitely earns its R rating, but may leave some with a bad aftertaste. The first half has the right balance of funny and salty, but as the movie progresses, we realize the movie itself has a bipolar disorder, confused on when to be funny and when to be unpleasant and uncomfortable, and Ronnie's condition is no longer humorous but sad and pathetic. 

Rogen somehow makes Ronnie a vulernable but disturbed and dislikable fellow, shedding his lovable stoner schlubbiness from "Knocked Up," "Superbad," and "Pineapple Express." So hey, he's trying something new at least (take note Michael Cera). As Brandi, Anna Faris nearly hijacks the whole thing, valiantly playing skanky dimwittedness for all it's worth. She's a pro at playing characters like Brandi, bravely going so far in her dinner date with Ronnie when taking umpteen tequila shots and the whole bottle of his medication, only to end in a date rape. Collette Wolfe is unassumingly sweet and heartbreaking as Nell, the picked-upon coffee shop clerk with a handicapped leg who takes a liking to Ronnie while everyone else calls him a “retard.” Celia Weston is hilarious as Ronnie's blunt-spoken, fall-down-drunk mother, who gives her son advice with a touching, boozed-up honesty. 

An extreme montage, with Ronnie and his right-wing man (a lisping Michael Peña) snorting coke, beating the crap out of teenage skateboarders, injecting heroin, and other radical things, comes out of nowhere. The bone-crunching violence is jarring and brutal for a comedy, even as dark as this one, and the ballsy climax goes all the way, showing the flasher (Hill's very, very game pal Randy Gambill) in all his glory that will put the frontal nudity in "Borat" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" to shame (oh, they go there). If you dig your steak and your comedy burnt to a crisp, then the screwy, oh-so-wrong "Observe and Report" will be your bag. 

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