The second shopping-mall-security-guard action comedy of 2009, and the best so far (although after Paul Blart: Mall Cop that’s really not saying much), Observe and Report is the one written and directed by Jody Hill, with profanity, nudity (mostly male), sexual content, violence, Seth Rogen and no intention of family-friendliness whatsoever. What its intentions are, exactly, is less clear. It comes on like an angry funny stupid scary pointless tantrum.
Appetite for destruction: Seth Rogen prowls his shopping mall as an unhinged security guard in Observe and Report.
Like Paul Blart, Rogen’s Ronnie Barnhardt is a chubby loser who lives with his mother (Celia Weston) and hopes one day to make the leap from rent-a-cop to real cop. Like Paul, Ronnie has his eye on a girl (Anna Faris) who works at his mall and is almost certainly way out of his league.
Unlike Paul Blart, Ronnie Barnhardt makes a move on the object of his affection by doping her half to death with his own prescription anti-depressants and a half-a-dozen tequila shots, then splaying her across her puke-spattered pillow, climbing on and having his way whether she’s conscious or not. Moreover, whereas Paul didn’t seem constitutionally inclined to violence, Ronnie can barely contain his urge toward riotous authoritarian menace. It doesn’t matter that the police academy doesn’t want him. He’ll just work his way, or at least himself, up—from a panicked ambush of seedy street corner crackheads to a skied-up rampage against hapless skater kids to a free-for-all Maglite beatdown of the police who finally come to take him away. Here and there he’ll also deliver an indiscriminate tasing or two, and eventually shoot an unarmed person with a real gun at point-blank range.
So you get the sense of how Ronnie rolls. When he first learns that his mall has a flasher (Randy Gambill), he says, “Part of me thinks this disgusting pervert is the best thing that ever happened to me.” Then, with dubious support from his lispy second-in-command (Michael Peña) and prudent interference from an actual detective (Ray Liotta), he makes a strenuous effort to prove it.
You could say that Observe and Report has some hostility. Hill might just want to see how we react when Rogen’s cherished schlubdom, in service of this dangerously deluded and soul-destroyed patrolman of hollow suburban commerce, finally gives way to pent-up proto-fascist rage. He provides Weston and Faris with only the most basic of motivations—drunkenness and ditziness, respectively—and apparent instructions to go at them with predatory ferocity. He stages one climactic chase scene as if only to best the oh-no-they-didn’t male nudity in Borat.
Certainly he obviates his movie’s shopping-mall-security-guard action-comedy predecessor, but how so is for you to decide. Is Observe and Report the Infamous to Paul Blart: Mall Cop’s Capote? The The Women to its Sex and the City? The Armageddon to its Deep Impact? Dear God, is it all of them, rolled into one huge marauding ball of extraneousness?