Observe and Report

Dir: Jody Hill

Rating: 2.5

Warner Bros. Pictures

86 Minutes

Dark comedies tend to do poorly at the box office. Not surprisingly, the masses have a hard time stomaching bleak humor, preferring lighter, more obvious fare. Yet somehow Observe and Report not only managed to be produced and distributed, it’s one of the most anticipated films on the spring docket. And make no mistake, Observe and Report is by far the bleakest, most sadistic mainstream comedy in ages, if not ever. While it may feature old-fashioned comedic stand-bys such as alcoholism, ugly bodies and ignorance, it also prominently features such wonderful subjects as date rape, horrific violence, hard drug use, racism, homophobia and so on. Observe and Report is more a brutal exercise in the darker aspects of humanity than a comedy, and almost completely unenjoyable.

Things begin somewhat normally, the film’s initial focus centering on mall cop Ronnie (Seth Rogen) and his attempts to track down a garden-variety flasher loose in his local shopping center. Ronnie has convinced himself that doing so will get him the girl (Anna Faris) and enable him to live his dream of being “all that stands between the light and the darkness,” or in layman’s terms: a cop. Of course, when the true authority figures show up, namely a local detective (Ray Liotta), Ronnie’s dreams are slowly, irreversibly shattered. The girl is sleeping with the enemy, literally, and Ronnie is too unstable to ever wear a badge.

All this is completely obvious and predictable and despite some memorable cameos by the likes of Patton Oswalt, Aziz Ansari and Danny McBride, you could sleep through the first half of the film and not miss much. But once the standard comedy checklist has been completed, things become entirely surreal and downright psychotic. Rogen plays Ronnie as a slightly unhinged, but mostly lovable, goofball from the film’s beginning, so when Ronnie’s switch is flipped towards lunatic it’s not so much shocking as disturbing how far he goes and how unaware of the reality of his actions he is.

Rogen is surprisingly effective in the role of Ronnie and in the hands of a better writer-director than Jody Hill, Rogen alone could have carried Observe and Report. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Hill brings a certain amount of inhuman disregard for morality and society in general in Observe and Report. This wouldn’t necessarily ruin the film if there was even a glimmer of something important or thoughtful in the script, but in Hill’s hands, Ronnie’s actions aren’t very far from a delusional teenager attempting to recreate his favorite first-person shooter. Hill’s perspective is almost dangerously proud, like a kid who has just discovered he can take life. True authority figures in the film are portrayed as merely joyless curmudgeons while the trigger-happy mall cops are seen as free spirits that ultimately come out on top.

Like Sin City before it, Observe and Report is pretty to look at and hypnotizing in its wanton violence but the instance you think about what you’re watching, if you have any humanity you begin to feel dirty and guilty yourself, as if by watching you’re abetting. Despite the strength of its cast (other than the typically boring Faris), the film itself fails to be anything other than a mindless, bloody fantasy. Particularly unsettling is the almost absolute certainty that the film will be a resounding success at the box office and that given the financial climate, Seth Rogen’s Ronnie will undoubtedly be held up as some blue collar folk hero. But he’s not- he’s just a jackass with a gun.

by Morgan Davis

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