Observe and Report
Usually, when a director misreads his film and the audience reaction is the opposite of what is intended, it means he’s made a drama that’s ineffective enough that it has become comedy. In the case of the new Seth Rogen vehicle Observe and Report, writer/director Jody Hill has made what he thinks is a comedy about a profane and idiotic mall security guard with dreams of being on the police force, but is in fact a scurrilous indictment of society in its inability to handle interaction with the mentally ill. Hill’s first film, released last year, The Foot Fist Way, was about the same thing, a karate instructor (played by Danny McBride) with maturity and anger management problems who screams and curses at little kids for 80 minutes. Both of these characters are clearly off, their unpleasantness and conveniently cantankerous moods an expression of their dissatisfaction with themselves and their inability to cope with the failures of their dreams and the downsides of reality.
At least in the case of Observe and Report, Hill has Rogen’s character, Ronnie, on anti-depressants, and when he thinks he’s strong enough to stop taking them, there is the inevitable crash. Unfortunately, there appears to be little difference in Ronnie when the medication is supposedly working. Hill’s approach is to be abrasive at all times, with characters repeatedly yelling and cursing at each other at the top of their lungs. This is funny for about 90 seconds, but then it falls into the Stepbrothers trap, where the screaming scenario has nowhere to go and just ends up being ear piercing, instead of amusing. Was this inspired by South Park with the use of little kids using inappropriate language as a juxtaposition to their suburban exteriors? Perhaps, as Observe and Report, like Stepbrothers, has a very long scene of the male protagonists thoroughly beating up children, for no particular purpose except to give you the warning that random, shocking violence could happen at any time.
Observe and Report takes this violent notion to quite an extreme, it almost drifts into reality as Rogen begins to lose his marbles and takes on a virtual army of policemen, only to receive a sustained pummeling. It appeared that the movie might go in an interesting direction, but, and maybe these scenes were cut for pacing, Rogen does no time in prison for crimes against the cops that would have reasonably verged on execution as a punishment. Rogen overplays most of the movie, but there really wasn’t much of a choice, lest he be outscreamed by the rest of the cast including Ray Liotta, Patton Oswalt, Ana Faris, and Aziz Ansari (who has one of the few funny lines in the movie, “why the fuck would I rob the Chick-Fil-A? It’s fucking delicious!”). This manic energy causes Rogen’s serious delusions to drift into the background as Hill seems to think Ronnie is some sort of admirable hero (he’s too unpleasant to be worthy of pity).
And yet Observe and Report is almost redeemed by its hysterically funny final scene, wherein Rogen, who has spent the entire movie attempting to capture a flasher terrorizing the mall (including an amusingly ditzy Ana Faris), deals with his sworn enemy. This sequence, like the rest of the movie, is extremely raunchy, but has an exuberance and free feeling totally missing from the previous 85 minutes, which had been trampled by actors with apparently limited improvisational skills. It almost appears that Hill had conceived of this last scene first, and went on auto-pilot to fill in the remainder, as long as it was able to logically justify the conclusion. The last scene of is in fact the only time in the movie that Observe and Report comes across as pure comedy, as opposed to being forced or misconceived.
As a caveat, I predict Jody Hill’s next movie will star Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Jack Black, and Jonah Hill, and will be about attention seeking actors with aggression issues in an anger management course. Hopefully, it will also be a drama.