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Josh Reviews Observe and Report

About two-thirds of the way through Observe and Report, the new film written and directed by Jody Hill (who also wrote & directed the criminally under-seen The Foot-Fist Way), one character observes to another: “I thought this would be funny, but it’s just kinda sad.”  A more perfect summation of this film, I could not imagine.

Seth Rogen stars as Mall-Cop (excuse me, Director of Mall Security) Ronnie Barnhardt, who sees himself as top dog in the kingdom that is his mall.  Ronnie is completely smitten by Brandi (Anna Farris), who works in the cosmetics department of one of the mall’s department stores.  Brandi, of course, wants nothing to do with him.  But when a pervert prowling the mall’s parking lot exposes himself to Brandi, Ronnie sees his moment to be a hero by solving the case and catching the pervert.  The two other major players in the story are Ray Liotta as the police detective assigned to the case (of whom Ronnie is immediately suspicious and dismissive), and Ronnie’s “right-hand man” Dennis (played magnificently by the almost totally unrecognizable Michael Pena).

I knew going in that this wasn’t going to be a laugh-a-minute comedy like Seth Rogen’s other recent films (The Forty-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, etc.).  Nevertheless, I was caught somewhat off guard by just how sad this story is.  Not sad in terms of being a get-out-your-handkerchief type of film.  This isn’t The Pianist or anything like that.  But rather than being laugh-inducing, I found watching that most of the exploits of Ronnie Barnhardt were just rather pathetic and sad.  If that’s what the film-makers were going for (and it very well might be) then bravo, mission accomplished.  But I can’t say that I got an enormous amount of enjoyment out of watching the movie.

Even the moments when I really laughed during the film weren’t moments of clever dialogue or humorous situations, but more from Borat-style “I can’t believe I’m watching this” shocks, such as Ronnie and Dennis’ brutal crack-down on the group of kids skateboarding in the mall’s parking-lot, or Ronnie’s chase after the pervert in the film’s climax.  Again, this isn’t necessarily a negative.  It just wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

This is a film that, as I think about it now, I RESPECT more as a well-made film, and one that is very brave for going to some extraordinarily dark places, as opposed to a film that I really LIKED.  If I can’t recommend it whole-heartedly, it’s mostly because some of those dark places that the film visits aren’t so much fun to watch!  On the other hand, Observe and Report is certainly a unique film, not at all a Hollywood cookie-cutter comedy.  And it’s a film that I’m sure I won’t mind revisiting some day on DVD, to see if my reactions change now that I know what type of tone to expect.

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