- Rated R
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All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
re mall cops the new penguins? Hopefully not, though it is a little strange to see two movies about the same subject matter released so closely together. Warner Bros. was no doubt peeved when they discovered that Sony’s own mall cop movie (“Paul Blart: Mall Cop”) would arrive in theaters months before theirs, but while both films share similar stories, they really couldn’t be any more different. “Paul Blart” was the kind of uninspired, slapstick comedy that we’ve all come to expect from the month of January, while “Observe and Report” is a pitch-black comedy that only gets darker and more sadistic with each minute. In other words, it’s not the kind of film that will make $100 million at the box office, but it’s also so much better than its competitor. Neither one deserves more than an “SNL” sketch, but at least “Observe and Report” takes the kind of risks we rarely see in Hollywood these days.
Seth Rogen stars as Ronnie Barnhardt, the last person that should be placed in any position of power. He’s bipolar, gun crazy, and a bit of an idiot, and yet somehow, he’s managed to become head of security at Forest Ridge Mall. When a flasher starts tormenting innocent shoppers in the mall parking lot, Ronnie jumps into action with the hope that catching the pervert will impress cosmetics salesgirl and office crush Brandi (Anna Faris). Instead, he butts heads with the local detective (Ray Liotta) called in to investigate the case and ends up looking like an even bigger loser in the process. After his dream of becoming a real cop is crushed, however, Ronnie takes matters into his own hands (no matter how unconventional) in order to bring the flasher to justice.
What follows is one of the strangest and most daring films of the last five years – a dark comedy that walks like an indie and talks like an indie, but has the backing of a major studio. Warner Bros. should be commended for taking a chance on such a bizarre project (especially after releasing “Watchmen” only a month ago), and it’s a shame that the end result isn’t as impressive. At only 86 minutes long, “Observe and Report” shares many of the same problems that plagued director Jody Hill’s first feature, “The Foot Fist Way.” While the movie’s opening act is loaded with several great moments, it slows down considerably from there in order to focus on the story. Unfortunately, there isn’t that much story to tell, and while the audience patiently awaits the next big laugh, they're forced to sit back and watch as Ronnie unknowingly sabotages his own career.
With the exception of some great cameos by Patton Oswalt, Aziz Ansari and Danny McBride, the middle of the film is terribly hit and miss; though it does bounce back in the end with a riotous finale that no one (and I mean no one) will see coming. By then, however, the damage has already been done. Seth Rogen does a good job in his most mature role to date (perhaps an indication that he’s actually growing as an actor), but the other characters are never fully developed. Anna Faris is wasted as the apathetic love interest, while Ray Liotta fails to make the most of his callous detective. The unsung hero of the group is Michael Peña, an Oscar-worthy actor who unselfishly takes a back seat when the film would have probably benefited by giving him a meatier part.
“Observe and Report” has garnered many comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” but while both movies are certainly similar in tone, the overall concept of the film – especially in terms of the relationship between the wannabe amateur (Rogen) and the mean-spirited professional (Liotta) – is more akin to Scorsese’s “King of Comedy.” Both movies deal with the darkly comical psychosis of one man’s aspirations to become something more, but “Observe and Report” falls well short of attaining its predecessor’s greatness. There’s just as much to love about the movie as there is to hate – a fact that has become all too clear in the divide among critics – but if you like your films with a little edge, you won't find another one this year as provocative as this.
Special Edition Blu-Ray Review:
“Observe and Report” may have divided moviegoers and critics alike, but everyone can agree that the film’s Blu-ray release is one of Warner Brothers’ strongest to date. Highlighted by a picture-in-picture commentary with writer/director Jody Hill and stars Seth Rogen and Anna Faris, the two-disc set also includes a host of deleted and extended scenes, a lengthy gag reel, and a behind-the-scenes look at the extensive use of improv during filming. There’s also a short featurette about two of the film’s big fight sequences, a lame Forest Ridge Mall security recruitment video, and a digital copy.