By Jordan Raup
Jody Hill’s directorial debut, The Foot-Fist Way, features Danny McBride as a struggling karate instructor trying to work out some serious issues in his life. Hill’s most recent feature, Observe and Report, takes that basic concept, replacing McBride with Rogen and karate with mall copping and manages to take it to a whole other level. That level includes rape, murder, vomit, serious drug addiction, and extended full frontal nudity (not the good kind). For the majority of film-goers this will not be funny and actually be rightfully offensive. The minority, equally surprised this film was ever made by a major studio, will experience a unique moment in cinema.
The film opens with a pervert flashing the mall customers. Ronnie Barnhardt, as the Forest Ridge mall cop, takes it upon himself to catch this pervert while battling Detective Harrison, played by Ray Liotta (Crossing Over, Goodfellas), and pursuing his love interest, Brandi, played by Anna Faris (The House Bunny, Just Friends). Liotta is slightly grating to watch, as he just plays it safe, like most of his recent roles. Faris is no different, bringing nothing new to the table, feeling like she hasn’t learned anything since The House Bunny. Unlike Liotta though, she plays this character well against Rogen.
Ronnie Barnhardt is a sad, disturbed individual. His actions are unwarranted and his character is unlikable, at least for quite some time. The general comparisons to Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle character in Taxi Driver are mostly correct. I didn’t buy the character, but watching him dive headfirst into the deepest pits of human existence was something of a spectacle to watch.
I was a bit worried at the beginning, as the first act of the film isn’t downright hilarious, and plays it pretty normal. Looking back, this was necessary for the outrageous acts to follow. There is a point in the film where everything before, no matter how odd it was, doesn’t compare to what is occurring at that moment. During this event, the viewer will either accept where the film is headed and enjoy the ride or find it preposterous and believe Ronnie has overstayed his welcome. After some brief hesitation I saw where Hill was going, and glad he never looked back. I won’t reveal anything more about what happens because the hilarity comes with the surprises.
Hill has also crafted a fine set of supporting characters. Switching from a dramatic acting background to take on this comedy, Michael Peña (Crash, World Trade Center), succeeds as Ronnie’s number two in command. His character stays in the shadows for a good part of the film, but once he breaks out, it is impossible to look away. Aziz Ansari (I Love You, Man, Parks and Recreations) particularly stands out as owner of a smaller mall shop. His hilarious interactions with Ronnie are among the best of the film. Patton Oswalt also plays a shop owner, a much cruder and pathetic one. There is a scene where he yells at an innocent cashier for not cleaning the area around her. The reason being she has a cast around her leg because of a protein deficiency. If this tirade doesn’t sound funny to you I highly suggest to stay away from the film. This is just one small dose of the heap of derogatory insults and images that proceed. The best supporting character, without a doubt, is Danny McBride. Again, I don’t want to give much away but his character made me wish him and Rogen flipped roles for this film. Alas, it seems like Rogen’s star power is the only way this film got made.
Jody Hill definitely has a knack for music, as heard in HBO’s Eastbound & Down. The film opens with “When I Paint My Masterpiece” by The Band, as we see the everyday events in a regular mall. When the heavy scenes come Hill perfectly slides in some nice rock from Patto, The Action, and others. It’s been a couple days since I have seen the film and the soundtrack keeps running through my head, triggering memories of the scenes. His quick, sometimes jarring editing style works well within the scenes themselves, but not so much during transition from scene to scene. Then again, that uneasiness I felt during some of the cuts echoes the overall disjointed theme of the film.
I’m going to have a certain joy this weekend when the average viewer sees this film, expecting another Paul Blart or another Seth Rogen comedy and is delivered something wildly different. While most viewers will be rightfully turned away, I see this film catching on and becoming a wild cult success. Even if none of that happens, we have to be grateful a film like this was able to be made and the comedy genre is being pushed into a brand new direction. While you are sitting in the theater this weekend, wondering whether or not you should be laughing, I suggest throwing away any morals you are attached to, if only for that short 86 minutes. Sit back and enjoy the flawed, but gleefully ruthless train wreck that Hill has laid before us.
8.5 out of 10
What did you think of Observe and Report?