Though it may make my skin crawl, I need to begin this exploration in to the insipid state of popular comedy with a personal tale. Two or three years ago I was at some kind of family gathering, if not Christmas then thanksgiving, and had just finished dismissing Judd Appatow's highly overrated “Knocked up” to a few of my cousins, specifically sighting the ever smug-to-be-useless Seth Rogen. Who could be engaged by such bland, one-note performance? Is he really so surprised that he's employed in a Hollywood picture that he can't stop grinning like that for a single frame? Is he a cardboard cut-out with a “Press here for dick joke” button attached to him? Okay, before anyone complains, he also jokes about other sex organs and bodily functions, but that's about the size of his dynamic range. Before I really got around to detailing this though, one of my relatives noted “That surprises me, I was just saying how much he reminded me of you”.
Time stood still for a second as I thought to myself “I sure hope she just means that we're both overweight”. I mustered a chuckle, feigned good humor and tried to change the subject as the room began to spin and I descended in to grim and unflattering introspection. A lot of suicides in the holiday season, I thought.
When a public flasher descends on the patrons of the Forrest Ridge mall, the head of security Ronnie Barnhardt (Rogen) sees a chance to elevate himself by playing Sheriff, landing his dream girl (Anna Ferris) and beating proper law enforcement led by Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) at their own game. As crime escalates at the mall and Detective Harrison's time there becomes more frequent, Ronnie's insecurities begin to surface under the pressure of his perceived competition. He acts on this stress by date-raping a co-worker, which in turn instills him with enough confidence to try to become a proper police officer, and then upon being turned down by the police engages in a really trite drug montage. Seriously.
A film delving in to territory like the abuse of power, rampant hard drug use, racial profiling, date rape and character studies of calloused, corrupted, heartless individuals are usually pretty intense trips. The problem here isn't that our lead is heartless (though he and everyone in his periphery are, if for no other reason than poor acting), it's that the film itself is heartless. Deprived of enough sensitivity or at least handled with enough irreverence these topics have over the years been milked in the name of some worthwhile satire, and in some exceptional cases for some great pitch-black comedy. However, Observe and Report has neither the depth needed for it's subject matter or the smarts to execute the daunting task of making it all funny, so just what the hell was intended to be happening here?
While running the press circuit for Observe and Report writer/director Jody Hill was eager to invoke Martin Scorsese's immortal TAXI DRIVER at every turn as a means of generating the kind of comparison he himself wanted to see. He would stress Observe and Report's “Grit” and “Edge” to no end, as though wishing these characteristics to life would make them so. Suffice to say that this is the equivalent of insisting that your septic tank has a lot in common with a five star hotel. True, you can theoretically sleep in both, but one is the product of multiple aesthetic disciplines at the height of their proficiency, every perceivable avenue is covered with class, and is ultimately a privilege to be involved with. The other is full of shit.
I'm quite aware of what Hill thinks he was doing, he spelled it out for us, but the only thing shocking or disturbing surrounding this movie is that he is deluded enough to compare his overblown Mad TV skit of a film to “Taxi Driver” in any capacity at all.
The good news is, if you thought “Knocked Up” was a fresh, edgy, and smart romantic comedy, that “Pineapple Express” was an edgy hybrid of biting comedic dialogue with a fresh injection of action packed thrills, and that “Superbad” was an edgy coming of age story with big laughs about getting fresh, then YOU ARE GOING TO LOVE the fresh and edgy exploits of Paul Blart....er...Seth Rogen in Observe and report. The bad news is that the combined edge of all of these films is about as sharp as a plastic grocery bag full of (fresh) dog shit, and that if that's smart film making to you....well...then I suppose this is all good news...
This film did send me in to an interesting reflection on how far along my self esteem has come since the night of the Seth Rogen comment. Despite unrelated lows far surpassing the one I felt following that initial blow, I can say in confidence that I have yet to reach a bottom and I can take some relief in that. I know that I haven't reached the bottom yet because while I may be an uneducated, overweight, unfunny, ambition-less layabout like Seth Rogen, at least I have shame about it all. The fact that his empire is so proudly steeped in these elements somehow seems infinitely more sad than my own solace in shame scenario.
Thank god I didn't watch this during the holidays....lots of suicides during the holidays.