Review: Observe and Report
Seth Rogen plays a dedicated, but delusional and unbalanced man who suffers from bi-polar and doesn’t feel he needs medication anymore. A head mall security guard who sees it as his mission to track down both a flasher and a thief, he spends more time getting in cop Ray Liotta’s face, though for supposedly interloping. Liotta’s constant ‘meddling’ looks like it might push the bi-polar Rogen, who actually wants to be a ‘real’ cop himself violently over the edge. Meanwhile, Rogen’s also got a thing for the entirely vapid make-up counter chick Anna Faris, who isn’t remotely interested in him (good for her!), whilst the sweet-natured girl who makes him his coffee everyday (Colette Wolfe) harbours an entirely obvious crush on him, that the ironically unobservant Rogen never seems to notice. Michael Pena (in a bizarre, attention-seeking performance far from his best) is a fellow guard who is into drugs, whilst Patton Oswalt is Wolfe’s dickwad boss. Celia Weston is a grotesque and embarrassing caricature as Rogen’s loving but perpetually drunk mother, whom he lives with.
Just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do it. This 2009 dark comedy from writer-director Jody Hill (“The Foot Fist Way” and the cult TV series “Eastbound and Down”) foolishly tries to mine laughs out of a truly unfunny premise. Basically, it’s a comedic version of “Taxi Driver”. Ha-ha. Not. Seriously, who thought “Taxi Driver” needed a few fucking chuckles? Well, give Hill points for being bold and original (Sort of. Scorsese gave us a similar lead character in “The King of Comedy”), if completely wrong-headed. Rogen, whom I always find a grotty and unseemly presence on screen, is thoroughly unlikeable in a role that I’m pretty sure Hill expects us to eventually warm to. I didn’t. I wanted to get as far away from this unpleasant bi-polar creep as possible. Talk about Stranger Danger, here’s the walking, talking definition of it. And why is someone with bi-polar disorder written as the lead character in a comedy? Bi-polar disorder just isn’t funny, dude, and this certainly isn’t on the level of maturity of “Infinitely Polar Bear”. The fact that Rogen’s behaviour is more sociopathic than bi-polar doesn’t excuse it, it just makes it even more offensive and egregious. I’m not being grouchy, folks, some things are just plain wrong. Hell, the film even tries to mine laughs out of Rogen essentially date-raping someone. Har-dee Har-Har.
However, Liotta gives his best performance since “Narc”, and despite playing it mostly straight, he is the only one who elicits any laughs here at all as he continually has to put up with delusional Rogen’s interference and looks a mixture of dumbfounded and aggressively annoyed. Best of all is the thoroughly winning Wolfe, I guess the film’s Jodie Foster character. I’d never seen her before this (but have seen her in a couple of things since), but I think this girl has genuine star quality and she projects a lot of warmth on-screen. Then again, I figured Annabeth Gish was going to be a gigantic star after “Mystic Pizza”, so what do I know? Still, it is to Wolfe’s credit alone that I had any dramatic interest in this film at all.
On the flip side, the usually hilarious Faris is wasted in an underwritten and ugly role. Also, it still mystifies me why such a sweet-natured, pretty girl as Wolfe would be even remotely interested in such a creep as Rogen. He’s visibly unstable, unattractive, completely rude to her at every given opportunity, and a mall cop for cryin’ out loud. What am I not seeing here? The heroic action climax might be a parody of the godawful ending of “Taxi Driver” (a seeming endorsement of Travis Bickle’s behaviour, it’s the one thing preventing that film from greatness in my view), but that doesn’t make it funny or any more enjoyable to sit through. Speaking of unfunny, there’s one scene almost entirely composed of four-letter words of the ‘ending in -uck’ variety (words that I like very much when used judiciously), that is pointless, childish, and an insult to every audience member’s intelligence. I have to say, though, that the rock and pop soundtrack is full of familiar bands, including several Queen songs, and curiously ‘Help is on its Way’ by Aussie 70s band Little River Band. I have no idea why it’s here, and didn’t even know the song was popular overseas (though I know they did tour there, so it makes sense), but a little LRB never hurt anyone.
Two pretty good performances and a fun soundtrack can’t save this strange and disturbing misfire, but I’m sure it’ll amass a cult following in years to come. As for me, this film made me appreciate “Bad Santa” even more. Hell, even the underrated “Cable Guy” was a better example of this kind of dark comedy. Hmmm, perhaps that’s because Billy Bob Thornton and Jim Carrey are infinitely more talented, and more charismatic (even when being repulsive) than Rogen ever will be.