Observe and Report is not your typical Seth Rogen comedy, it is not even your typical American comedy. It is a funny film, but the humour is often black as night and what sets this apart is the mixing of sad fantasy and mournful reality, populated with a circus of freaks and, well – you know the rest.
Seth Rogen adds to his gallery of strangely likable losers playing the disaffected Head of Security in a dead end Mall plagued by the sudden appearance of a flasher. His job, and the thrust, if you will, of the film is Rogen’s Ronnie Barnhardt bringing justice back to the Mall in order to win his dream girl, a marvellously vacuous and mentally docile make up counter girl Brandi played by Anna Faris.
Ronnie heads up the most ineffective security team in history as a spate of petty crime brings him into contact with the local police force, headed by the great Ray Liotta. And so the film plays out Ronnie’s quest to get the bad guy, win the girl, and stick two fingers up at the local PD (whom Ronnie tries unsuccessfully to join – with a hilarious improvised scene with Rogen terrifying the Police psychologist with his answer to why he wants to be a cop).
This is a film about men and power and in the sterile, faceless Forest Ridge Shopping Mall Jody Hill constructs a microcosm of a torpid, cruel world with an infinite number of power struggles from the very first scene where the flasher charges through the parking lot opening his coat at the assortment of female shoppers to the scene stealing Patton Oswalt as the Bun store manager abusing an injured member of staff.
The film is often very brutal and our sympathies are easily swayed: Ronnie’s relationship with his Mother may play on the inappropriate drunk Mom type a little too much but the scenes with Ronnie at home dreaming of becoming a police officer or, once fired from his job, contemplating his life are deftly handled, adding a necessary dimension to Rogen’s character and our engagement with the story.
This is the film’s strength. We can enjoy at the laughingly ineffectual security team, watch in horror as Ronnie’s date with Brandi goes horrendously until the dessert of prescribed pharmaceuticals brings it to a highly dubious climax, and yet feel sorry for a man who just wants to get along in a world that he has no understanding of and with his father gone – no role model to emulate.
Machismo plays a huge part in this film. At his job prowling the mall looking for ne’er-do-wells and shoplifters Ronnie is a man with a mission, clearly having watched too many episodes of Cops he cuts a laughable figure and so we plunge into a comedy of errors as Ronnie attempts to flirt and gain respect in the various faces of authority and it is very funny to see this play out. Rogen in particular is given a lot of ground to improvise on and provides the most laughs. He is outrageous and odd, a tightly buttoned buffoon wandering the mall, narrating his life.
At times the film appears to shift into he fantasy world of Rogen’s character, allowing him to beat down a dozen rushing cops using his Mall-issue torch or doing a Chuck Norris on a group of, admittedly lame, drug dealers – there’s slow motion and a rocking soundtrack. It’s like a Youtube recreation of 300 and it works.
It’s a difficult sell, and it should be surprise that Warner Bros put Rogen all over the marketing for this film, as his turns in the numerous Judd Apatow films have a figurehead for this type of fare – where Observe and Report succeeds is by sticking to its guns literally and figuratively and giving us a portrait of a man in total control of his crisis.
The cast are great, and Rogen is an engaging lead, Liotta is also excellent and terrifying though this is not part of his character (I have a recurring nightmare in which I open my front door and Ray Liotta is standing there, laughing and laughing and laughing – it’s haunting), Faris saunters from one state of intoxication to the next like a doe falling through a cosmetics counter.
The Blu-ray transfer looks great – sharp and colourful and the extra features include a Picture in Picutre commenatry with the director and Rogen and Faris. The gag reel and extended scenes are worth watching as the improvised nature of the film mean you often get a very different and very funny alternative to the final scene.
While I had problems with one scene (and you’ll know which one) I enjoyed the film very much as a portrait of a practical man relying on fantasy to get him through the day to day of his mundane life. Oh, and not to spoil the ending but male nudity and slow motion do not mix. Ever.