Sunday, April 12, 2009

Seth Rogen Means Business

Observe and Report:
2 ½ out of 4

There are no likable characters in "Observe and Report." Not even the hero of the movie, Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen), is likable. You can't root for him, but you can easily follow him around and watch to see what unpredictably brash thing he'll do next. He's a loose cannon and a man caught up in his own delusions. It's a brave performance for Seth Rogen as, even with this film, he's yet to choose a character he can't make his own. This certainly isn't the usual curly-headed, lovable teddy bear we've come to know. With freshly shaved-down hair, Rogen makes Ronnie out to be a much deeper and scarier character than could've been perceived. Ronnie is the head of security at Forest Ridge Mall who has a dream to one day become a real police officer who gets to carry a gun. The problem is he has bipolar disorder, and he's simmering at a boil and ready to spillover at any moment. His character has shades of Travis Bickler from "Taxi Driver," and it's no coincidence. There are subtle similarities here and yet this movie's labeled as a comedy. It's the most twisted, daring, sick, cynical, and darkest comedy we'll probably see released from a major studio this year.

Director Jody Hill, who directed last year's low-budget comedy "The Foot Fist Way," establishes a distinct tone to the whole ordeal, one that is oddly sad. It's like watching a horrific car accident unfold right before your eyes; it's sometimes hard to watch and yet you can never turn away. All of the actors supporting Rogen play their rather eccentric characters right on the brink of farce without ever crossing into that territory. They play out the absurdities of their characters without ever hinting at the fact that they're trying to be funny, which makes it even funnier in the most interesting and confusingly affecting way. Consider Anna Faris, who plays Brandi, the ditz blonde who works the makeup counter in the mall's department store. She plays Brandi as a purely shallow bitch, nothing more, and she's all the more hilarious for it. Celia Weston plays Ronnie's mother who is always in a drunken stupor with a satirical seriousness, and there's even a brief appearance of Hill's co-conspirator, Danny R. McBride, as a corner crack dealer.

When a crude flasher (Randy Gambill) runs amok in the mall and presents his dangling goods to Brandi, Ronnie takes it upon himself to protect the mall from this menace. What pisses Ronnie off the most is the fact that Brandi has been put in danger. He has lusty feelings for her and drags her to go out on a date with him, a date that ends in the most unsavory of ways. Hill pushes the limits way too far, but in the context of this movie, the disturbing aspect of it all fits right in. Enter hard-ass Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) who takes over the investigation of the flasher and openly mocks Ronnie. Big mistake. Ronnie's frightening delusions come directly to the forefront. He's assisted by his right-hand man, Dennis (Michael Peña), who is crazy weird, along with a reluctant recruit and a pair of Asian twins, which allows one of them to be totally expendable. And Ronnie never ceases from getting his free cup of coffee from a friendly barista (Collette Wolfe) who, completely unknowing to the self-absorbed Ronnie, has a crush on him. Her leg is broken, and she gets harassed by her cruel manager, and once Ronnie gets light of that, it first initiates his dangerous behavior.

Jody Hill doesn't shy away from filling "Observe and Report" with moments of unpleasantness. The 86-minute romp culminates into a shocking eruption of violence after a chase scene involving Ronnie and the flasher throughout the mall. Here's a movie so off-kilter that this surprisingly graphic ending is arguably the movie's funniest moment. Strange how that works.

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