Farce about mall cops does injustice to dark comedy genre
In the song behind the opening of "Observe and Report," Bob Dylan’s "When I Paint My Masterpiece," The Band sings, "You can almost think that you’re seein’ double."
That’s true — if you’ve seen "Paul Blart: Mall Cop."
Both are comedies about mall cops — one in particular who lives with his mother and has a crush on a woman who works at the mall. There’s also a display car that you know will be called into action.
"O & R" should be the better movie but it isn’t.
Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) is head of security at Forest Ridge Mall, where the mall cops hope to carry guns in the near future. In the meantime, they have batons, flashlights, Tasers and their favorite weapon, the F-bomb.
If you giggle every time you hear the F-word, you’ll find "Observe and Report" hilarious. There is little else to laugh at.
It’s obvious that Ronnie has delusions of grandeur.
"I’m a cook and I’m serving up justice," is typical of his declarations.
When Det. Harrison (Ray Liotta) investigates a parking lot flasher and an overnight robbery, he and Ronnie get into a jurisdictional dispute.
We later learn that Ronnie has a bipolar disorder. When he goes off his meds, it doesn’t help him with the psychological exam to get into the police academy. Even if you’re not offended by the use of mental illness for cheap laughs, it’s not very funny.
Toward the end, the tone changes as Ronnie starts narrating in what sounds like an outtake from Travis Bickle’s journal. It’s not a spoof of "Taxi Driver," but serious enough to make us dislike our bipolar, self-aggrandizing hero.
In addition to being unfunny, "Observe and Report" gets downright ugly, not only verbally but in two action scenes near the end — a brutal beating and a point-blank shooting.
Ronnie’s second-in-command is Dennis (Michael PeÃ±a), with whom he eventually has a bromance. They’re both straight, despite Dennis’ beyond-Castilian lisp.
Ronnie has his sights set on Brandi (Anna Faris), a "cosmetic consultant" with a gay assistant, Bruce (Alston Brown).
Bruce is the target of some homophobic banter from Ronnie, who himself is called a "fucking faggot" by Det. Harrison in one of their arguments. A quick shot of two women in their underwear sharing a bathroom stall doesn’t exactly balance the frontal nudity when the flasher runs through the mall in all his less-than-glorious glory. It may log a record amount of "penis time" for an R-rated movie but they get away with it because it’s no big thing.
Brandi’s idea of a joke is summoning a waitress by calling, "Nurse!" She’s not the only potential love interest for Ronnie, not that he deserves even one. There’s also Nell (Collette Wolfe), the new, temporarily crippled girl at the coffee-and-buns stand. She takes a lot of abuse from her boss, Roger (Patton Oswalt), and tells Ronnie she’s a "born again virgin" who’s holding out for marriage. This too occasions tasteless jokes.
I’m no prude. If anything, I could be said to be a fan of tasteless humor — when it’s funny (e.g., "South Park," sometimes).
Ronnie’s team includes twins John and Matt (John Yuan and Matt Yuan) and rookie Charles (Jesse Plemons). They’re not Keystone Kops — Millstone Cops is more like it.
"Observe and Report" was written and directed by Jody Hill, who got more positive attention than he deserved for "The Foot Fist Way" last year.
I’ve observed "Observe and Report" and I’m reporting it sets the bar awfully low for the rest of this year’s comedies to go under. But I’ve no doubt some of them will make it.
OBSERVE AND REPORT
Director: Jody Hill
Cast: Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Michael Pena and Ray Liotta
Opens April 10 in wide release. • 1 hr. 56 min. • R
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 10, 2009.