Thursday, April 16, 2009

451 - Observe and Report review

“Observe and Report” is the second movie this year about a mall security guard. It’s also the best, though that’s not necessarily saying much seeing as the other is “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” Over the weekend I had three different people ask me if the two films were identical. Yes, I said at least once, unless you count the transgressive insanity and hypervulgar content of “Observe and Report” compared to the family-friendly hi-jinks of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.”

I’m far from the first person to make the comparison (though unless you frequent many film websites you might read it here first), but “Observe and Report” is more akin to “Taxi Driver” or even “The King of Comedy,” both Martin Scorsese films where Robert De Niro stars as an insane idiot with delusions of grandeur. Here, Seth Rogen (not quite as good an actor as De Niro) takes the lead as Ronnie, a mall security guard with all the problems of the De Niro characters and an even worse job.

“Observe and Report” invests its protagonist with a malice rarely seen onscreen, a disregard for the lives of others cloaked in a false concern for their well-being. Ronnie’s psyche is too fragile to handle the stress of inadequacy and inconsequence, so he labels himself a hero and behaves as if he were the linchpin of public safety. His minor successes only embolden him further in his ostensible quest to protect the shoppers. In reality, all he wants is the unfettered adoration of any and everyone.

The people Ronnie shares screen time with are only marginally more likeable, perhaps a necessity for the film because it enables us to throw our support behind the “hero.” There’s Brandi (Anna Faris), a tramp who works the makeup counter and never tempers her contempt for Ronnie. He commands Dennis (Michael Pena), a fellow guard who’s much less of a loser than his boss because he doesn’t take himself seriously. And then there’s Ronnie’s mother (Celia Watson), the sort of alcoholic who with a countenance full of pride announces that she is making the switch from liquor to beer.

Ronnie’s time to shine occurs when a loathsome pervert begins flashing women in the mall parking lot. When Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) shows up, Ronnie whines that it’s his case, never mind that he has any discernable investigation method other than hanging around and accusing mall employees on his bad side of being the culprit. And then there’s Nell (Collette Wolfe), a food court employee that we’d consider sweet were it not for the fact that: A. by liking Ronnie we recognize her as possessing her own mental illness and B. she’s obviously a function of a studio system that requires even a twisted film like this to end happily.

It’s appropriate that by the film’s shockingly funny and violent climax we’ve come to root for Ronnie more out of concern for those around him than for his own success. Delusional and filled with dreams that see him gleefully blowing people away with a shotgun, it’s not a stretch to imagine his stalking through that same mall, cutting down all patrons unfortunate enough to be present. Therein lies the lingering discomfort of “Observe and Report” than many good comedies possess. We laugh at what happens, but if the dial were twisted a degree to the right, we’d be watching a tragedy instead of a comedy.

1 comment:

Blake Badker said...

wow seth rogen you showed me that we're all too citizen kane. lowell mclovin and moral poverty.