Movie Review: Observe and Report
By Matthew Huntley
April 20, 2009
Because it's only been three months since Paul Blart: Mall Cop started banking nearly $150 million at the box office, I suspect Observe and Report will get overlooked and be remembered merely as "that other mall cop movie." There are significant differences between the two, not least that Blart is a PG-rated family comedy while Observe contains ceaseless F-bombs and one too many shots of male frontal nudity.
But even though I consider Observe and Report to be the better film, it's not by a large margin, and it's certainly not enough to recommend. In fact, even if Mr. Blart had never come along and robbed millions of moviegoers of their hard-earned income, and set a low standard for the "mall cop" genre, there still wouldn't be much reason to see Observe and Report.
Seth Rogen, that jolly, prolific Jewish actor, stars as Ronnie Barnhardt, the head of mall security in a small suburban town. Barnhardt takes his job very seriously and we first see him lecturing a pair of Asian twins on his staff (John and Matt Yuan). Apparently, this is supposed to be funny because they're twins and Asian. There's also Ronnie's best friend, Dennis (Michael Peña), whose lisp and Jheri curl only go so far with amusing us.
Ronnie dreams of one day honing his skills into becoming a police officer. His talents are put to the test when a man in a trench coat starts flashing women in the mall parking lot. Ronnie vows to catch the guy, especially after he victimizes Brandi (Anna Faris), the hot blond who sells cosmetics. The police send in Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) to investigate, but Ronnie dismisses his methods and thinks he's going about it all wrong.
More problems ensue when the mall gets robbed. Ronnie thinks it's his Middle Eastern nemesis, Saddamn (Aziz Ansari), but there's no evidence, and as Harrison tries to conduct interrogations and search for clues, Ronnie's interference proves unbearable. To teach him a lesson, Harrison drops Ronnie off in a dangerous neighborhood, but to everyone's surprise, he comes out alive and on top. As the two vie for Brandi's attention, Ronnie fails to see a more promising relationship from Nell (Collette Wolf), a born again Christian who works at the mall coffee shop.
After a while, we come to realize everything that happens in Observe and Report is more or less in line with our expectations. Even with the bizarre ending, nothing really surprised or intrigued me. The first problem is the lack of interest the movie generates for its hero. Ronnie has his own set of quirks and idiosyncrasies, sure, but I feel like I've seen them in other characters from other movies. To me, Ronnie was just a typical fat guy who still lives with his mom (Celia Weston).
Second, I didn't laugh much during this movie, and even though many people tell me it's a "dark" comedy, that doesn't mean it's not supposed to be humorous. Director Jody Hill failed to inject much energy into the more outrageous scenes. For instance, when Ronnie threatens Nell's boss by pounding his head into an oven, I didn't feel any punchy effect or payoff. Many scenes like this simply fall flat and became inconsequential. I also didn't care much about Ronnie's overall transformation from loser to hero.
The supporting actors aren't very memorable, either, probably because the cast lacks a certain freshness. Once again, Anna Faris plays the slutty, ditzy blond who drinks too much while Ray Liotta is the hard-knuckled cop who'd be willing to fight you in public just to prove how tough he is. None of these roles feel like stretches for the actors, even if they're meant to be self-conscious or all in good fun.
As for the ending, it tries to stir things up by raising the shock value, and while it is shocking, it's not exactly funny. I won't reveal what happens, but let's just say Judd Apatow and Jason Segel have already covered it and it's no longer groundbreaking.
The filmmakers probably thought it was enough that Seth Rogen was playing a mall cop - that the comedy and story would just somehow fall into place because of him, but I found little at risk here and felt the humor was below Rogen's standards. Unfortunately, after both Paul Blart and Observe and Report, the great mall cop comedy remains to be made.