Saturday, April 11, 2009

Observe and Report

If Judd Apatow is the proprietor of today's "Idiot manchildren growing up" comedies, NC native Jody Hill is making a name for himself with a series of "Idiot manchildren being reinforced" comedies.  Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) feels like he could be the equally disturbed younger brother of The Foot Fist Way's Fred Simmons.  But whereas Fred seemed to at least learn something from his ordeal, Ronnie's creepy worldview is not only vindicated, but frighteningly encouraged.

Ronnie is the head of security at a New Mexico shopping mall.  He spends his days pining for the use of a six-shooter while on duty, as well as Brandi (Anna Faris), the girl who works the cosmetics counter.  When a flasher starts terrorizing the mall (and the audience) with his dangly member, Ronnie takes it upon himself and his team to hunt the flasher down and protect Brandi.

What follows is Ronnie taking advantage of the situation to go on one ridiculous ego trip after another and to woo Brandi (seemingly by force).  The film is more of a disturbed character study than a plot-driven comedy.  It does bear a lot in common with The Foot Fist Way, especially in watching our hero's well-being continuously put to the test, often with violent results.  It's a film that almost forces you to root for Ronnie, because in the real world we'd probably hate this guy.

Ultimately, it's this aspect of the film that will either make or break it for you.  If you're willing to forgive some of Ronnie's more violent excesses and impulses, you'll probably have a fun afternoon at the movies.  On the other hand, you may find yourself aghast at Ronnie's behavior, especially once the real detective (Ray Liotta) arrives onto the scene, much to Ronnie's chagrin.  It's a credit to Seth Rogen that the central character's performance is as strong as it is, because the film that he finds himself in is really pretty flimsy.  

Just like with his previous film, Jody Hill seems far more interested in character than he is in plot.  The film ultimately suffers from having almost nothing to do, leaving Rogen to invent shenanigans for Ronnie to get into (the increasingly quiet shouting match with a fellow mall employee: priceless).  There are some great laughs along the way, but the film can't overcome its lack of structure to be anything other than a curiosity.  Which is a shame, because Ronnie's character arc is surprisingly strong.  It's fun seeing Seth Rogen actually play a character other than himself for once, but the film surrounding him is largely unimpressive.  Observe and Report is certainly funny, but a strong central performance does not a good film make.  

Three stars (***) out of five.

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