Observe & Report (Movie Review)

Note: This review and my Adventureland review have been around 900 words, so I am writing longer reviews like a few people have suggested a while back. Just remember that you asked for it [insert maniacal laughter here]

Observe & Report

Consider, if you will, taking the station and enthusiasm of Paul Blart, giving him the attitude of Billy Bob Thorton's Bad Santa, and adding in the ethics of Watchmen's Comedian. What you'd get is a rudimentary idea of who Observe & Report's Ronnie Barnhardt is. He is a rent-a-cop with a passionate love for his job, a very clearly defined moral disposition, and a clinical instability as a result of suffering from bipolar disorder. Compound this with shocking athletic ability for a person of his stature and a remarkable aptitude with firearms, and not only do you have a lethal weapon, but quite the compelling character as well. As Observe & Report ticks on, bits and pieces of Ronnie's psychological makeup are revealed to the audience by a clever mix of sincere dialogue between characters, convenient plot points, and occasional voiceovers. What Jody Hill has written into Ronnie Barnhardt is a compelling character study on its own, but when mixed with Seth Rogan's conviction, it became a rare on screen presence unique for its immediacy and ferocity.

Perhaps I'm exaggerating the ingenuity of Jody Hill's creation, but Observe & Report is certainly unique if only for its main character. I've seen many a dark and twisted film in my time, but they all failed from neglecting to include a compelling anchor. What passes for darkness in cinema these days is a perverse obsession with hacking off body parts, spilling enough blood to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool, and attaching cookie cutter caricatures to the unfriendly end of a ten foot tall cheese grater. How amazing, then, is it that Observe & Report manages to be more unsettling than the five Saw films, two Hostel films, and Funny Games combined? Thanks to the emergence of "torture porn" (a genre label I'm not entirely fond of using) any remaining discerning taste a person might have during a bout of ugly nihilism is shot to Mars as they line up to see unlikable meat-bags get eviscerated by a crippled sadist on Halloween. I personally hope that Observe & Report acts like a sawed off shotgun blast of rock salt to torture porn's chest, doubly knocking the genre's presence out of general awareness while offering the moonlighting nihilists of the world a measure of class.

Apologies for veering off topic, but I felt that needed to be said.

Observe & Report is distinctly dark, possibly even downright evil. There is so much about this movie that a person could take up arms and crusade against (moral decline far beyond petty prejudices), but those quarrels are largely unfair because their primary function is not used to disgust so much as it is used to characterized. The core of Observe & Report isn't its ugly and grim themes but its character. Amid the darkness of the film emerges a type of charm so brilliant and shining that it overcomes the billowing darkness, or maybe I'm just caught up in loosely paraphrasing one of Ronnie Barnhardt's foreboding voiceovers from the film. The layman's truth is that a good, captivating film emerges from the detestable waters it swims in.

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These mall cops will murder you.

Ronnie Barnhartd (Seth Rogen) is a manic depressive head of mall security whose father left him and whose mother is an alcoholic. His eyes are fixed squarely on the mall's cosmetic department's makeup artist Brandi (Anna Faris), who recently caught an eye full of naked man as a flasher is tormenting the premises. Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) is called in to catch the bastard which causes Ronnie to become a territorial vigilante bent on catching the pervert and becoming a police officer. That's it. Change the character names and sub out the pervert for a crew of parkour bastards, and you'd have Paul Blart: Mall Cop if the writers felt compelled to write in more debauchery including police brutality, drug abuse, and date rape.

To be fair, Observe & Report isn't that extreme. Moments in the film designed to unnerve follow basic principles of horror filmmaking that are largely overlooked nowadays, such as people being more unsettled by a paper cut than comedic levels of blood fountains. Ronnie's apodosis isn't a complete nosedive nor is it the most deftly executed decline, but it works well enough that there is a distinct reaction within the audience when you a see a hazy yellow fluid in a syringe receive a blood red bullet. It's not a film about corruption nearly as much as it's a redemptive feature punctuated by hard, effective moments of vice.

It should go without saying, then, that Observe & Report is being mismarketed. People expecting a screwball comedy will likely be caught off guard by the weight of the feature. I have a feeling there was also this problem in production too since the leading cast of Rogen, Faris, and Liotta are all thoroughly committed to the joke while the secondary cast don't appear to be adequately filled in. Scenes between the three stars adopt a tone of their own that scenes with Rogen or Liotta's on screen lackeys can't adopt and sustain, which leaves the film feeling slightly unbalanced at times. Observe & Report is also peculiarly brief at less than 90 minutes, but I'm actually quite grateful for that. It's better for a comedy to run short and leave the audience wanting more than running long and the risk of overstaying its welcome (Not unlike how I think this review has started to).

Haven't seen the film, but anything the director claims is meant to be the "comedic version of Taxi Driver" will be as dark as you claim this film to be.

Some comments about how successful as a comedy the film is would be welcome (ambigious picture captions aside). A good read, but very narrowly focused on a few elements, and as much as I enjoyed your deranged similie of the Observe & Report shotgun I'm not sure how good an idea it is to extend a tangential topic even further. Hardly outstayed its welcome, and I agree with the people who suggested you write longer reviews. Hopefully we won't regret our suggestion (just don't post a 3,000 word meandering review/hate rant of 17 Again) but regardless, I'm looking forward to seeing what you can do in a longer review.

It was a good review, but it would have helped if you elaborated on what made it so dark, exactly. And yeah, I was actually expecting this to be a slap-stick comedy sort of thing, I didn't realize it was supposed to be serious.

 

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