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Review: 'Observe and Report'

This Seth Rogen film should cease and desist

Posted: April 9, 2009 4:26 p.m.
Updated: April 10, 2009 6:00 a.m.

Anna Faris, left, and Seth Rogen star in "Observe and Report," a comedy set in a shopping mall.

 

The most charitable thing we can say about the otherwise insufferable "Observe and Report" is that it shows Seth Rogen has some range.

He's not just the self-deprecating cutup, the stoner teddy bear we've come to know and love in movies like "Knocked Up,"
‘'Superbad" and "Pineapple Express."

Apparently, he also has some pent-up rage in him, which he unleashes in spectacularly wild fashion as the head of security at a suburban shopping center. (Don't call him a mall cop, although the superficial similarities to the PG-rated Paul Blart are unmistakable. Later on, though, as Rogen's character sinks deeply into his self-appointed role as vigilante, he will also resemble Travis Bickle. It's as odd a combination as it sounds.)

Like Blart, Rogen's Ronnie Barnhardt takes his job far too seriously, but he's forced to spring into actual action when a flasher starts antagonizing the shoppers - and, more importantly, blond bimbo Brandi (Anna Faris), the cosmetics clerk for whom he's long lusted.

But there's little about Ronnie that makes you root for him to succeed personally or professionally; writer-director Jody Hill has created yet another singularly unlikable character, as he did in his debut last summer, "The Foot Fist Way."

On the one hand, you have to admire Hill for just going for it, for recklessly abandoning all semblance of what would be considered tasteful or appropriate in a comedy for mainstream audiences.

Unlike Danny McBride's "Foot Fist" character, delusional tae kwon do instructor Fred Simmons, Ronnie does have some vulnerability to him, which shows in a few scenes with his alcoholic mother (Celia Weston), but those are played for awkward laughs.

More often, the road Hill drags us down isn't a terribly funny one, especially as it becomes more startlingly obvious that Ronnie is a danger to himself and others.

Hill's script is just as erratic: a series of hit-and-miss non sequiturs in which his characters mostly humiliate and injure themselves and others. It's not terribly offensive (though women may be put off by the way Ronnie's date with Brandi ends); it's more like an onslaught, one that seems to drag on.

A sequence in which Ronnie and fellow security guard Dennis (a lisping Michael Pena) get high and cause mayhem in the mall after hours is a prime example: It comes out of nowhere, does nothing to further the plot and disappears just as quickly.

Ray Liotta, as the police detective assigned to investigate the crimes, is one-note in his disdain of Ronnie's ineptitude.

Similarly, Faris' comic charms go to waste: She's back in that ditz persona she's perfected, but there's no sweetness within the character, just bland self-adsorption.

Hill's longtime friend McBride makes a brief appearance here, too, in one of the movie's many out-of-place moments.

Come to think of it, "Observe and Report" is like a mall itself in many ways: It has a bunch of random stuff under one roof, and you can only hang out in it for so long without growing depressed about the future of humanity.

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