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Observe and Report (2009)


Some people take their jobs way too seriously. Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogan), head of security at a local shopping mall, is one of those people. Thus, when management receives reports about illicit activity occurring on the premises, he takes them very personally. Beside the complaints about a pervert exposing himself to women in the parking lot, after-hours robberies are taking place on a regular basis. Ronnie alerts his security staff to be on high alert, but all of their brains put together couldn’t solve a three-letter crossword puzzle.

When a cosmetics counter employee named Brandi (Anna Faris) becomes the pervert’s latest victim, management calls a police detective (Ray Liotta) to help catch him. Ronnie is livid that his supervisors have outsourced an investigative team. He feels that he’s perfectly capable of handing the case, and would love to prove it to Brandi to win her affection. He quickly discovers, however, that Brandi’s ‘affection’ isn’t difficult to win.

Soon, Ronnie decides it’s time to move on to bigger and better things (i.e. a job with a gun). He visits the local police department, learns about recruitment, and jumps right into the testing process. He passes the physical exam with flying colors, but fails the psychological exam after revealing a bipolar disorder and a morbid desire to shoot things. Ronnie is forced back into shopping mall security. Or is he?

At first glance, Observe and Report looks like an R-rated version of Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Don’t be fooled by the advertisements, though. The film is anything but a friendly stroll down comedy lane. Observe and Report is dark, violent, and twisted, complete with startling scenes of alcoholism, heroin use, vandalism, borderline rape, child abuse, extreme profanity, and the sight of an obese man with a small penis running around naked.

That’s not to say these things aren’t funny. Quite often, they’re downright hilarious, just as long as your inhibitions have been left at the door. Writer-director Jody Hill gives Observe and Report a fearless audacity, laced with the kind of humor that dirty-minded adolescents would concoct while drinking beer and smoking weed. It’s humor that you’re afraid to laugh at, in fear of social judgment.

Observe and Report unfortunately begins to unravel at the halfway point. That’s when stuff gets weird, when things start happening that are so outrageous, you’re sure Ronnie’s having a dream — but he’s not. The film becomes a pubescent fantasy where the characters act like they’re inside a cartoon and there are simply no consequences for their actions. It would be one thing if the movie set itself up as a fantasy from the beginning, but it doesn’t, and the rapid change of pace is awkward and confusing. We’re never quite sure what to make of it.

Furthermore, Observe and Report introduces lots of characters and subplots, but fails to develop them. We wait patiently for the comic payoffs that are seemingly promised during the first and second acts, but they seldom come full circle. Instead, the film forgets about its original ideas and focuses on being as random as possible. By the end, we don’t understand the film’s humor anymore. But we definitely want some of whatever it was that the filmmakers were smoking while making the last half of the thing.

Don’t call him a ‘mall cop.’