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Movie Review: Observe and Report

Security is the creepiest of the mall
Observe and Report
Genre: Comedy
Running Time: 106 min
Release Date: 2009-04-10
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By "By Lawrence Toppman"
The Charlotte Observer

A director needs guts to make a character a creep and keep faith that an audience will give a hoot about him.

Alfred Hitchcock did it with many a villain. Martin Scorsese made a habit of it with Robert De Niro for decades. Jody Hill has gone to that well with “Observe and Report” and come back with a bucket of water that will seem sweet to some, sour to others.

People who think of Seth Rogen as a cuddly, pot-addled buffoon with a sentimental streak will gulp at the shaven-headed, delusional racist who stalks through “Report,” waiting for a chance to detonate.

People who think of Anna Faris as a pert, good-natured comedienne will gasp at the blowsy, crude, alcoholic slattern with whom Rogen is obsessed. Chinks of mirth let some light into this emotional murk, but violence always hovers around a dark corner.

Rogen plays Ronnie Barnhardt, a 30-ish mall security guard who lives with his drunken mother (Celia Weston). Ronnie literally dreams of being a policeman, partly because the mall where he works won't let him carry a gun. And he dreams about sex with Brandi (Faris), for whom the term “display counter” refers as much to her cleavage as the cosmetics she sells.

When a flasher descends on Brandi at the mall, Det. Harrison (Ray Liotta) investigates the crime. Ronnie doesn't know whether to be helpful – maybe Harrison can help him get onto the police force – or resentful of the potential competition for Brandi's attention. Ultimately, as events turn against him on all fronts, he starts to boil over.

Hill, who wrote the script, has taken a giant step beyond “The Foot Fist Way,” his 2006 comedy about an equally delusional martial arts instructor. (That was the breakout role for Danny McBride, Hill's classmate at UNC School of the Arts. McBride now stars in Hill's HBO series, “Eastbound & Down,” as an egomaniacal ex-athlete, and he has one funny rant as a crackhead in this new film.)

When the former Cabarrus County resident shot “Foot Fist” in Concord, he struggled to shape ideas and cut scenes at places where they naturally ended. Now he and editor Zene Baker (another NCSA grad) move “Observe” along crisply; in fact, I wish they'd spent more than 88 minutes telling the story and fleshed out supporting characters.

Hill boldly made even those folks oddballs. Michael Peña, a warmhearted guy in “World Trade Center” and “Crash,” now lisps and minces and smacks people in the head. Collette Wolfe is spot-on as Nell, the dimly earnest Toast-a-Bun employee who gives Ronnie free coffee each day but would rather give him her heart. Sweet as she is, Nell remains an enabler and a fool.

Some folks have invoked “Taxi Driver” when describing Ronnie's character. He's more like Rupert Pupkin in Scorsese's disturbing “The King of Comedy,” where De Niro was the unhinged comic whose ineptitude was obvious to everyone but himself.

You can't root for Ronnie. You can't identify with him. You can't hope he gets the girl – any girl – or the police job or even the crook, whose streak through the mall gets plenty of full frontal exposure. But you may want to look on with stunned fascination as he ticks away, ready to explode.

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04/09/2009 - The Charlotte Observer - By Lawrence Toppman

The head of security at a shopping mall becomes fixated on a hot clerk, a job with the real cops and a flasher who eludes discovery.

(Full review)
Apr 13, 2009 - grissomb on Observe and Report
Where was this a good movie?

This was a pretty bad movie on all accounts. I went in knowing of the brutal moments and the black comedy, and I was still surprised at how bad of a movie it was. The characters perform shocking acts of violence and general disregard for laws and humanity...yet suffer no consequences. There's an uncharted mix of the passing of time. The soundtrack makes an attempt at being a character, but many of the songs are poorly chosen and are mixed way too loud into the movie.
I saw this movie on Saturday night. There was a more than 10 minute span of absolute silence in the theater, save the 5 18 year old girls behind me who laughed at ever f-bomb dropped in the movie. The room was about 1/4 full, and every person in front of me was texting on their phones, some even watching videos on phones or ipods, just so they wouldn't have to finish watching the movie they paid for.

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