OBSERVE AND REPORT (2009)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Language, Graphic Nudity, Drug Use, Sexual Content and Violence

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Directed by: Jody Hill

Written by: Jody Hill

Starring: Seth Rogen, Ray Liotta, Michael Pena, Collette Wolfe, Anna Faris, Aziz Ansari, Jesse Plemons, Patton Oswalt & Danny McBride

Most people know Seth Rogen for his goofy stoner comedies. These juvenile (but mostly enjoyable) R-rated flicks usually have a crude sense of humor, lots of profanity and don’t take themselves seriously. This might explain why OBSERVE AND REPORT is the lowest grossing (and mostly ignored) entry in Rogen’s long, successful filmography. Like a comedic version of TAXI DRIVER set in a mall, OBSERVE AND REPORT is a mean-spirited little film that borders on becoming a straight-up character study of a sociopath. Taken for what it is, OBSERVE is an interesting watch if only to see Rogen in a far darker role than he’s usually given.

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Ronnie Barnhardt is a bipolar mall security guard on a power trip. Barnhardt’s life is finally given purpose when an anonymous flasher exposes himself to several mall-goers, including countergirl Brandi (whom Ronnie has a crush on). In an effort to become a “hero,” Ronnie clashes heads with Detective Harrison (the frustrated police officer assigned to the case), tries to woo Brandi, and goes into the process of becoming a cop. Of course, since Ronnie is a raging sociopathic asshole with delusions of grandeur and a bad attitude, none of these things go quite as planned.

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The character of Ronnie is unlike any other role that Rogen has ever taken before or will likely ever play again. This delusional security guard is less of a goofy source of comedy and more like a borderline psychopath who elicits questionable chuckles from his awkward interactions with people around him. OBSERVE AND REPORT might be billed as a dark comedy, but the tone is far more serious than director/writer Jody Hill might have originally intended. This is a movie where things like mental illness, shootings, corrupt cops, and date-rape are punchlines. However, the pitch-black sense of humor in which the film treats these serious topics isn’t as funny as it probably should be.

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Besides Rogen, other big names also pop up in supporting roles, including Anna Faris playing the ditzy, manipulative Brandi. The film’s best performance easily goes to Ray Liotta as the detective who becomes increasingly fed up with Ronnie’s childish antics. The scenes between Liotta and Rogen stand out as some of the best moments in the entire story. Their dialogue exchanges made me wish that the story had been centered more around this rivalry between Ronnie and Harrison. As a rather useless additions with potential built for something bigger, Michael Pena plays Ronnie’s second-in-command (whose ultimate arc feels like a waste of time) and Jesse Plemons only pops up as a trainee for a couple of scenes. The script has a lot of on-and-off plot threads that ultimately wind up playing a miniscule roles in the story. One could argue these are the film’s jokey set pieces, but they aren’t fully treated as such. Ultimately, the story for this darkly comedic character study feels very messy and tonally all over the place.

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OBSERVE AND REPORT isn’t completely underwhelming as the film as its moments and aims for an emotional core underneath its twisted exterior. A memorable slow-motion sequence in the final act also has the second-best use of the song “Where Is My Mind?” that I’ve seen on film. However, OBSERVE AND REPORT feels like a weird mishmash of what could have been a far better and more effective film, if only the script and characters had been further developed. This movie is never as poignant as it occasionally tries to be and never reaches the perfect balance of twisted hilarity and dark content that better dark-comedies have in the past (e.g. THE WAR OF THE ROSES). Overall, OBSERVE AND REPORT is worth one watch if only to see Seth Rogen playing a total sociopath and experience the strangest title of his filmography thus far.

Grade: B-

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