Observe and Report

Observe and Report


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Seth Rogen has made a useful career out of socially awkward arseholes. Here, he switches off the charm and loses some of the gooey physique, as bipolar Head of Mall Security, Ronnie Barnhardt, a thoroughly unlikable amalgamation of the worst kind of inferiority complexes.

The first thing in my notebook: "Stupid, stupid, stupid character!" If he was intelligent, he'd be reprehensible. A rent-a-cop without the brains to see a good thing when its staring him in the face, nor the wit or self-awareness to make it as anything else. He's more Travis Bickle - quoting Taxi Driver verbatim, while bench pressing in the mall exercise shop - or Watchmen's Rorschach than Paul Blart.

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He's well played by Rogen, giving surprising depth to this sad, lonely and maladjusted character. But he's just not funny, unless you find a narcissistic, racist, gun-fetishing git amusing. The plot follows Ronnie's warped social microcosm, romancing the make-up girl, Brandi (a marvellously slutty Anna Faris) and attempting to find a limp-noodled flasher and inside job thief ahead of surly Detective Harrison (a no-nonsense alpha-male Ray Liotta), while chasing his dream of becoming a police officer, before suddenly coming off his meds.

He lives at home with his mother (Celia Watson), a rampant alcoholic, who thinks nothing of avoiding white lies about Ronnie's detrimental effect on her life. However, Ronnie is not entirely without merit as a policeman. In a difficult switcharoo, where he patrols the mean streets as Harrison's deputy, he succeeds in bringing perpetrators to book where lesser men would have given up, whereas in those simpler moments of getting on with people and reading elementary social situations, he fails where he should succeed.

"I thought this would be kind of funny, but it's actually kind of sad", says Detective Harrison's colleague after Ronnie is humiliated, which sums up the movie nicely. More often than not, it straddles the laughter line - I found myself half-laughing at moments of acidic and keenly observed characterisation before being blasted with horrific crassness and vicious violence.

The movie attempts to wring horrendous and guilty laughs from alcoholism, borderline date rape, beating teenagers to a pulp and bipolar disorder. None of these bad taste subjects, given the right treatment, are inherently unfunny. It's a fine line between this and Bad Santa-esque riotous comedy. But if we're going to laugh at anything, other than shock or surprise, or follow Ronnie's mental meltdown, we need characters that we can get behind, or smarter comic direction to make it happen.

Writer/director Jody Hill's occasionally insightful script provides none of these and David Gordon Green's cinematographer, Tim Orr, is wasted. Shop elsewhere, folks.

Reviewed on: 24 Apr 2009
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Mall cop comes off his meds, and the world had better watch out!
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