Posted on 26 March 2009.
Perhaps it was the emergence of The 40-Year-Old Virgin that marked a change in cinematic comedy. Hollywood has since moved away from quaint PG-13 humor, forever in search of a “hard R.” Virgin certainly wasn’t the first comedy to earn an R rating and succeed, but the rating seems to be the predominant one in the genre ever since it touched down four summers ago. Hollywood turned its back on the Mike Myers and Jim Carrey slightly distasteful forms of laughs and it has yet to turn back. This change was welcomed by me, as I was never one for feature length comedy to that point and I was given Borat, Knocked Up and Superbad almost immediately afterward. However, things may have reached a ceiling where it’s too much. Such is the case with Observe & Report.
Ronnie Barnhardt is a mall cop (not unlike our friend Paul Blart). Oops, strike that. He’d correct me. He’s “head of mall security.” Most likely, this is due to seniority since he doesn’t appear to have any other ambitions in life, except for maybe scoring with Brandy, the make-up-counter girl. Then, something profound happens to him, or at least he perceives it as happening to him. A flasher emerges, taking the mall parking lot by storm. He runs up to cars as women pull into spots, exposing himself to his victims by the mere opening of his tan trench coat. He lurks behind bushes and pick out his next target. When he takes it out (“It?” “It.” “Out?” “Out.) for Brandy is when Ronnie is forced into action. He figures finding “the pervert” will bring him closer to Brandy and vows to do so.
The mall director has other plans, however. He doesn’t believe Ronnie has what it takes to catch the flasher and bring him to justice. Detective Harrison is brought aboard to help work the case. Ronnie is immediately taken aback. So confident he is in his ability to catch the flasher and use it to finagle a path to Brandy, he takes issue with Detective Harrison horning in on his turf and his job. Ronnie proceeds to make things difficult on Detective Harrison as he attempts to ascertain information which may help in determining the culprit, while Ronnie’s only concerned with his own reputation and ego. Detective Harrison erupts in Ronnie’s face, insinuating he was a “rent-a-cop” and not capable of handling the situation. This ignites a fire in Ronnie and his next round of business is to become a police officer himself.
Without the interference of Detective Harrison, Ronnie escorts Brandy back to her vehicle one night and cons her into going on a date with him. Although she blatantly disses him, or “forgets” as she says, Ronnie is persistent and willing to wait and they go out for drinks at a restaurant. Ronnie is infatuated with her and although she acts like the consummate slut, he declares to “accept” her. The date culminates in copulation, but is never mentioned again. Ronnie then proceeds with his newfound purpose in life, to enforce the law along the likes of Detective Harrison. What will happen if things don’t go according to plan, though? How will the bi-polar Ronnie react to the eclipsing of the one dream he’s ever had?
"Ha. You take Cialis? That's like the old person's Viagra."
Observe and Report was written and directed by Jody Hill. Hill emerged a few years ago when his debut, The Foot Fist Way was seen and loved by Hollywood comedy giants, Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Judd Apatow. The star of that film, Danny McBride has rocketed in fame since its screenings and he and Hill just finished working on “Eastbound and Down” for HBO. The humor in this and his first film are very similar. Both feature somewhat unlikeable protagonists that are full of themselves for ultimately no reason. What about being a mall cop provides Ronnie with the arrogance he carries? Perhaps it’s his home life, handed the pressure of being the only man in the family, having to deal with his permanently drunk mother. Hill injects an anger in his lead character, which never seems to waver, but is always on the verge of boiling over.
Seth Rogen has been permanently fixated with the role of foul-mouthed outsider and he succeeds in bringing his typical talent to the table, but as has been proven in his past couple of roles, he can’t elevate a script and a story into something it’s not. Known as a master of improvisation, either he didn’t bring his “A” game to the set or wasn’t given the reign necessary to utilize him to maximum effect. His persona has steadily declined in laugh ratio in recent projects, making you wonder if he really achieved the heights you thought he did starting out. However, I’m confident Judd Apatow can get the best from him later this year in Funny People. The unsung comic force in the film is Michael Pena, as Ronnie’s partner in crime, Dennis. He flexes his comedic muscle in a way never seen before. He will get noticed and expect to see him distributing more laughs your way, soon.
At only 86 minutes, Observe and Report goes by quickly, but not necessarily efficiently. There’s a subplot involving Dennis, which is good for a montage of laughs, but you can’t help but feel it was added purely to pad the running time. Although bi-polar, Ronnie’s character is uneven. He’s obviously ready to burst, and we see his home life as a reason for it, but it’s not something that even occurs to him. Why is he so upset at life if he appears so content? It’s a contradiction in character. The humor in the film itself comes from a very angry place. A visceral comedy if ever there was one. The film beats you over the head both verbally and physically. It’s loud and in-your-face. This would all be forgiven if the film was funnier, but alas it isn’t. Although the brutality may be absurd, it’s still brutal to endure.
I’m not at all saying comedy needs to be tame. I love “Comedy Central’s Roast of Pamela Anderson” with a passion. I enjoy the insults. I just think that filmmakers are now using cursing as a crutch. Larry David once said on a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode, “you throw in a f*ck, you double your laughs,” yet he tries to curtail the amount of cursing on the show. I’m all for it, when it’s funny. However, as some very recent R-rated comedies have shown, there needs to be something more to it than that. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Observe and Report isn’t the first offender, nor its worst, only the latest and it suffers accordingly. Hopefully, we’ll soon get another comedic revolution. We’re due.