#1  
Old 04-19-2009, 04:37 PM
Jody Hill's Observe and Report

Observe and Report (2009)

"Observe and Report" tries to be a combination of many things. It wants to be a comedy, mixed with several other genres like romance, crime drama, and even a little family drama. Somewhere along the way, the movie just loses itself amongst all of these different elements, and by the end, we're not really sure what Jody Hill wanted this movie to be about.

Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) is head of security at a shopping mall where a flasher has been terrorizing the customers. In an effort to bring this flasher to justice, the mall manager brings in Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta). To have a detective on his turf makes Ronnie feel threatened, therefore he tries his best to solve the case himself. After an oral bashing from the detective who thinks Ronnie is doing a terrible job, Ronnie decides to try his hand at becoming a police officer. At the same time, he tries to start a relationship with a woman, Brandi (Anna Faris), who works at the mall.

The story here wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. That said, I wish Hill had taken the time to focus on what he wanted to movie to actually be about. The film just goes from one plotline to the next not really taking much time with any of them. At first, the movie is about the flasher, then it's about the rivalry between Ronnie and the Detective, then Ronnie's relationship with Brandi, then his attempt to join the police force. There are even a few scenes at home where Ronnie's mother attempts to give him words of encouragement. With all these different plotlines, it felt like there was no real focus.

As far as this being a comedy, there were a few moments that made me crack a smile, but nothing nearly funny enough for a good, solid laugh. The odd thing is, this movie was advertised as a comedy, but the trailers don't give a very good indication of the genre mix that the audience is in store for. The genre mixing is what probably ended up hurting it the most as the film tries to be serious one second but then has little spurts of comedy that end up falling flat, making it feel like more a letdown, as well as showing just how misleading the trailer was.

Speaking of the trailer, it also showed that Ronnie was going to be a somewhat annoying character. I was hoping that the trailer was just making it seem that way by putting together several of his macho-cop moments. But the character really is like that for the entire 82-minute runtime. Seth Rogen, who is in just about every scene of the film, can be funny when given the right material, but here, he just plays the character on one continuous note which gets very dull after awhile. Rogen has proven that he can get great laughs just by playing a normal guy like in "Zack and Miri Make a Porno." As Ronnie, he tries too much to play up the macho attitude, making the character very unlikeable.

It was cool to see Ray Liotta, who is probably most known for playing Henry Hill in Scorsese's "Goodfellas," but his character isn't really given very much to do. It seems his only purpose in this film was to be a kind of "villain" to Seth Rogen's character. In a way, it seemed like Liotta didn't even want to be in this. Early on, his performance starts off by being very annoyed at Ronnie and giving him the oral bashing. Later on in the film, he seems to lose interest in what is happening at the mall, and by the end, he looks like he is completely indifferent towards what happens. Perhaps this was an artistic choice, though it would be a very odd one.

The events towards the end of the film just got ridiculously unbelievable. There is one scene where Seth Rogen manages to hold off what looks to be a whole squad of cops just by using a flashlight. Then there was the very end where the situation with the flasher gets resolved. This scene was just bizarre; talk about "excessive force."

That's not to say that all aspects of the ending were bad. The romance part of the plot ends on a good note with Ronnie making the right choice after giving a slight oral bashing of his own. There are some touching scenes in the film, the sparking of a new relationship for Ronnie being one of them. There is even a scene that just gives immense satisfaction after having seen the way one of the characters has been treating a friend of Ronnie's.

It seems that Hill had a decent idea for the story, but just didn't know what he truly wanted to focus on. A story about trying to catch the flasher might have made for a decent movie. A story about Ronnie's relationship with Brandi might have made a good movie. Even a rivalry between a mall cop and a detective might have made a good movie. Unfortunately, trying to combine all of these stories into one did not make a good movie. 2/4 stars.
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  #2  
Old 04-25-2009, 11:30 AM
Judd Apatow and his gang of like-minded associates (Seth Rogen, David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, and Jason Segel would fall into this classification) have built a very strong and very funny collection of films that have effectively balanced obscene and raunchy humor that was wrapped around characters and a storyline that had a real heart beating behind it. This is certainly why a film like "Knocked Up", "Superbad", or even "Pineapple Express" can garner such a large audience: despite each film's gleeful willingness to offend the viewer, it is also highly focused on charming them as well, and thus far these films have been highly effective in doing so.

With that being said, the heart beating behind Jody Hill's sophomore film "Observe and Report" is not a gentle one, a touching one, or even a charming one. It is a cancerous, eroded, black heart that beats only to pump more venom into the film, and never seems to care that what it is portraying on-screen is repulsive. Nevertheless, this approach actually works quite well. Why? Because it is a film that is also very, very funny.

Seth Rogen's Ronnie Barnhardt is a man who is clearly unbalanced, and though his position as a low-level security guard at a shopping mall possesses little true authority, he nevertheless polices the mall like a sadistic man of the law who improperly views himself as a lone savior. He is accompanied by his ambiguous Hispanic partner (a very funny Michael Pena, in a role that is a definite change of pace for him) and a set of Asian twins. When a serial flasher begins to expose himself to several women throughout the parking lot of the mall, Ronnie sees this as his opportunity to prove himself worthy of greatness, and believes that succeeding in apprehending the pervert can finally earn him the chance to be a real cop. But when a professional cop (Ray Liotta) begins to investigate the crime as well, Ronnie realizes he must work fast to solve the mystery of the vile pervert before his rival does.

The first thing that should be noted in this film is how well Seth Rogen sells the entire role. Rogen has built a strong fan-base from playing characters who are filthy and yet immensely loveable, and it is a nice fit for him as he seems like a very approachable guy even in real-life interviews. But there is nothing sweet about Ronnie. The many allusions to Travis Bickle that people have made to Ronnie are a little exaggerated, but they aren't too far off. He is clearly unbalanced, and the fact that he is allowed to maintain a position in any job that requires one to be engaged in daily social interactions seems like a dangerous proposition. A key scene depicting his very shaky mental state is his psychological evaluation for the police force, which goes hilariously wrong. Rogen succeeds in taking a character who could be really uncomfortable to watch and endowing him with a magnetic quality. You are horrified by most of Ronnie's actions in the film, yet you are compelled to be watching because there are several laughs to be found in each of his deplorable actions.

And that brings us to Anna Faris. Let me begin by saying that at this point I'm convinced there is no line that Faris is willing to cross if it means that she will garner a laugh. And for that, I love her. Faris' turn as Brandy in this film is trashy, sluttly, self-absorbed, and idiotic, and at no point did I feel Faris was doomed to fall into the same trap that many beautiful women attempting comedy fall into: this girl has no vanity when reaching for a laugh. I really wish more comediennes had the willingness to tackle absurdity the way she does, and I continue to look forward to her taking even more risks with her career. The rest of the cast is also fairly competent. Michael Pena is a lot of fun in his supporting role, and Ray Liotta is shocking, if only because he played an individual who isn't insane in a film full of lunatics. Liotta actually managed to play one of the most grounded, rational characters in the film, which almost deserves a medal considering how whacked out Liotta is in real life. And Danny McBride pops up in this film as well with another great cameo as a gang member.

I was delighted to see a film as nightmarishly unmerciful as Observe and Report. Not since Bad Santa have I seen a movie that maintained such a stubborn refusal to be nice or likeable, but like that previous film it is hard to care since the movie is very funny as well. There are a number of scenes that will likely alienate many viewers (one scene in particular between Brandy and Ronnie has been drawing a considerable amount of controversy) but those who aren't scared away by the content will be justly rewarded.

9/10
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