Seth Rogen aims for his own Bad Santa and misses the mark in this ugly, highly profane and only occasionally funny dark comedy. Writer and director Jody Hill tries hard to recreate the nasty, laugh-at-anything-and-everything feel of that Billy Bob Thornton Christmas comedy, but can’t keep a consistent tone or make an enjoyable movie about a boorish bully who harasses anyone who gets in his eyesight.
Rogen plays Ronnie Barnhardt, a tightly wound, bi-polar mall security guard who vows to catch a flasher who is stalking the parking lot and, worst of all, has harassed the flaky cosmetics girl (Anna Faris) who is the woman of Ronnie’s dreams. The movie barely makes time for all the subplots that are crammed into a short 86-minutes: we get bits involving a rival cop (Ray Liotta), Ronnie’s alcoholic mother, Barnhardt’s offbeat rent-a-cop colleagues and the mystery of the trench coat-wearing flasher. With so many balls in the air, the laughs often fall flat.
Most scenes end the same way, with Rogen either beating someone up or dropping the f-bomb and walking out of the frame. Don’t get me wrong, f-bombs can be funny, particularly when used as a shock tactic to add juice to a punch line. Here, the word is uttered so frequently, and relied on to provide so many jokes, that it loses its power after about 15 minutes.
I like Rogen a lot, but when he ventures outside of Judd Apatow-produced comedies, he either provides inspired voice work in movies like Monsters vs. Aliens or unwisely chooses poorly written showcases like this and Zach and Miri make a Porno. It’s interesting to see Rogen do in this movie what Jim Carrey did in The Cable Guy—after playing likable roles in popular comedies, Rogen is portraying a genuinely disturbed, creepy character. But while Carrey’s cable guy became a cult classic and helped launch his dramatic career, Rogen is unlikely to get audiences in his corner. You want to laugh because Rogen is playing the part, but if you switched him out for, say, Mickey Rourke, the movie could be a thriller without changing the script.
Oddly enough, the actor who gives a great, breakout comic performance is Michael Pena, the brilliant dramatic actor from Crash. Playing Rogen’s number two, Pena is hilarious. Collette Wolfe, who is touching and funny as the only nice person who works in the mall, also steals some scenes. Farris, surprisingly, doesn’t run off with the movie—she has her moments but is repeating herself here.
The inevitable comparison to the Kevin James vehicle, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, isn’t as easy as you’d think. James’ movie, a lousy but popular PG-rated family comedy, is more sweet natured but a lame time-killer. Observe and Report is raunchy, unpleasant and violent, but at least tries to be something uniquely nasty. Really, the only clear thing the two movies have in common is that they’re only tolerable if you think Rogen or James can do no wrong. Both actors, and their fans, deserve better. MTW