Observe & Report

Let me join the choir of broken records on this one: DON’T read this or any other review, just go see it before the “secret” gets out. If there’s any justice in the world, this film is about to leave theaters full of people who showed up for a second go at “Paul Blart” (which really isn’t bad and doesn’t deserve the slagging it’s getting in comparison to this superior but largely unrelated film) shell-shocked and rattled like nothing they’ve experienced in recent memory. Don’t you wanna be there for that?



For those of you who either ignored the above advice or took it and just came back, here we go:

In the broadest sense, O&R is a grim subversion of the current most-reliable comedy trend: Movies about socially-inept, comically-derranged man-children living in their own deluded world where their meager job or position is of huge importance – even though they’re largely incompetent at it – but who are basically harmless and thus likable in their wackiness (see: 95% of Adam Sandler movies). O&R changes-up the game with a diabolically-simple swap – removing the “incompetent” part. And the “harmless” part.

Seth Rogen’s Ronnie Barnhardt is an overzealous mall security guard who envisions himself as the Dirty Harry (or is it Maniac Cop?) of commercial-district suburbia, and up to a point that’s about as funny as you’d expect… except that he’s NOT inept or incapable: He’s FREAKISHLY “good” at what he thinks his job is. He’s a crack shot with his beloved gun collection, he’s in surprisingly spry shape for his, er.. “shape,” he’s got a creepy talent for earning fealty from other small-time malcontents and – most importantly – he’s a very REAL physical threat to those who cross him. This is no endearingly-disconnected goofball, this is a bona-fide psychopath BARELY kept in check by bipolar meds. That’s the gag: The other characters don’t know everything “we” know, so they keep treating him like an over-imaginative dork while the audience knows the frightening truth that Ronnie really IS the tormented lethal-weapon he thinks he is… in fact, he’s even worse than that: Ronnie thinks he’s Harry Callahan, but he’s REALLY Travis Bickle.

Events conspire to push Ronnie’s hero fantasies over the edge: A trenchcoat-clad “flasher” is tormenting girls at the mall, including his longtime crush Brandi (Anna Faris as possibly the best “unlikable” female lead in a decade or more.) Ronnie elects himself chosen by providence the bring the “case” to a close, leading him to butt heads with the real police (Ray Liotta), make his move on Brandi and go off his meds. None of these things are good, but the bigger problem is that their consequences can’t STOP him: Ronnie is NOT a guy who self-destructs – his psychopathy explodes outward, anhilating those around him but leaving him relatively unscathed and oblivious.

The film itself is somewhat imperfect. It sometimes seems to drop off-tempo jokes into scenes just so there can BE a joke, and it’s ending possibly goes on one or two beats too long (you may be too shocked to care at first glance, however.) But it’s made brilliant by it’s fearless sensibilities, it’s rather “Watchmen”-like examination of the kind of lunatic that actually takes to vigilantism and its performances – including a scene-stealing a possibly career-changing comic turn from Michael Pena.

Honestly, I’m actually a bit disturbed at how “relatable” Ronnie is at some moments. By the time the film wraps up we know he’s lethally-unstable, a stalker, a racist, potentially a date rapist… but there’s a certain real “vengence of the underdog” angle to his delusions that from certain angles you (or, at least I) could halfway sympathize with. At one point he and Pena team up to lay a horrifically-violent beating on a gaggle of grade school aged skateboard-punks and, well… on the one hand I “understand” that this is meant as a further clue as to how far-gone Ronnie is, but on OTHER hand I have worked in a mall and damned if I didn’t get a MASSIVE vicarious thrill watching him break a board over one of the little brats skulls. I think this is part of why the film works, though – this ISN’T a fantasy of a crazy guy, this is a crazy guy who exists by the thousands all over the place and maybe to a degree inside more people than would like to admit it.

Final Rating: 9/10

One thought on “Observe & Report

  1. Anonymous says:

    he man, great review on a great film^^, kind of disturbed by the whole skater beutup(skater myself so…) but still, The end scene, where he told Brandi to fuck off and shot the perv in the face, had so much dry humor it made me look back on the film a li’ll bit brighter. Anyway keep up the good work, i love it.

    – simon


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