Capone says OBSERVE AND REPORT has no moral center and is the most important comedy in years!!!
Published at: April 10, 2009, 7:17 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
The absolute best way to see OBSERVE AND REPORT is to stop reading this or any other review of it. I'm not so much concerned about critics giving away too much of the plot or the best lines. No, it's more about letting slip just how messed up this depraved piece of perfection truly is. I saw this film for the first time at SXSW, and I struggled trying to remember the last time a film, especially one with this many laughs, really shook me up like this. This is a film with no moral compass, no mercy, and with a soul as dark and poisoned as the most hardened criminal. This is a movie borne of a crack whore mother and absent father (who probably could have been any one of a dozen men), given to be raised by a 300-pound uncle who spent his days beating this movie and his nights committing unspeakable acts. This film ran away from home at 15, and turned tricks with businessmen in alleys stinking of long-dead fish and rat shit, while catching every festering disease in the book. Now imagine, if you can, what a movie like this would look like, smell like; then imagine this movie is a comedy.
All comparisons between OBSERVE AND REPORT and TAXI DRIVER are way off. If you feel compelled to stand this film up against a Scorsese/De Niro collaboration, make it THE KING OF COMEDY, for the plain and simple reason that Seth Rogen's mall security officer Ronnie Barnhardt wants to be accepted and loved by the masses as a hero, as a symbol of respect. He's not like Travis Bickle's loner at all, other than the occasional voiceover. No, Ronnie is an all-too-perfect personification of a person we see every day doing a job that most dog wouldn't crap on, and he has convinced himself that he is doing something important. (All of this said, I do like the recent references to FALLING DOWN, which might be the film that this one most resembles.)
As obvious as it might seem to cast Rogen in the part of a mall copy, there is nothing predictable about his performance. Gone is the loose and chuckling dude from KNOCKED UP and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. Ronnie is tightly wound, unfriendly, socially clunky, even a tad on the racist side. Above all else, he's angry. You can't blame him entirely, especially when you meet his perpetually drunk mother (the sex kitten in a house coat Celia Weston) who has no qualms about blaming Ronnie's special needs growing up for his father leaving the family. As the head of mall security, Ronnie has gathered a group of underlings that are mind bogglingly wrong for their line of work, including the Yuen twins (played by the real-life Yuan twins), suffering from a bad case of gun envy, and Michael Peña's mad creation Dennis. Peña gets so lost in this character that I didn't recognize him at first behind his sunglasses and under his tight curly hair. His gangsta lisp sent me right over the edge. There's one early scene in which Peña emits some sort of sound from his nose, combined with a generic gang sign that had me screaming.
Aside from his mother, the women in Ronnie's life play a huge part in the character's development. On the one hand we have the object of his obsession, Brandi (Anna Faris, playing as horrible a character as I have ever seen her play), a certified self-centered twat, who is repulsed by Ronnie until a parking lot flasher terrifies her to such a degree that she looks to him for protection and comfort. Ronnie takes advantage by asking her out on a date--a date that is permanently burned in my brain as ending in one of the most horrific moments of any movie ever. Yet somehow, some very clever writing saves the scene, the entire production for that matter, from going straight to hell. And it all works because Faris has no fear. Brandi's counterpoint is Nell (Collette Wolfe), who works at a coffee and danish hellhole in the mall. Nell is sweet, sensitive and easily demoralized by her evil boss (played by the demon known as Patton Oswalt). She's such a good person that, of course, Ronnie barely notices her.
Ronnie's nemesis is Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), who is constantly challenged by Ronnie for his thoroughness on capturing the flasher and on a string of overnight robberies at the mall. Ronnie has his suspicions about who committed these crimes, but strangely enough his list of suspects happens to coincide with those mall employees that Ronnie doesn't like, including the great Aziz Ansari, who in one scene engages in an exchange of about 97 "fuck you's" with Ronnie that goes far beyond funny into another realm of consciousness.
I'll admit with my head held high that I wasn't a big fan of writer-director Jody Hill's first film, the underground discovery THE FOOT FIST WAY. But I think that reaction was as much a product of inflated expectations after literally years of hearing how funny the damn thing was. And while I recognized the brilliance of star Danny McBride (who has a shocking cameo on OBSERVE AND REPORT) immediately, it was tough for me to really love the film. In fact, when I met Hill for the first time at SXSW last month, the first thing he said to me was, "You hated Foot Fist Way." To which I responded, "That's not true; I had a healthy disrespect for it." That said, I worship the HBO series Hill and McBride did, "Eastbound and Down," and hope they get to do a second season.
But Hill's thought process is pulling together the plot and characters of OBSERVE AND REPORT is a little terrifying to me. He seemed like a nice enough man, but somewhere in the darkest corners of his fractured soul lies an angry and hateful person who spews his foul seed on the page and somehow convinced a big-time studio to give him money to make this demonic spoo. Or at least that's one explanation. The other is that Hill wanted to make a film that had never been made before about characters that few directors want to know, let alone examine at this level. Hill is sick of the safe style of R-rated comedies. Let's face it, even the most depraved of the Apatow-style films appeal to mass audiences because they have such big hearts. (Where would Rogen be were it not for his lovable KNOCKED UP/ZACK AND MIRI cuddle-bear charm?) OBSERVE AND REPORT couldn't give a fuck about heart. It's the polar opposite of a film that you all know I adore, I LOVE YOU, MAN, a movie built around the idea that everyone in it is a likable man or woman. Hill's movie couldn't give two shits whether you like his characters. In fact, it works out better for everyone if you don't like them.
Hill and his team have thrown down the glove as a challenge to other filmmakers to not simply try harder or be more vulgar. He wants them to make something different. OBSERVE AND REPORT still has lots of big laughs; there at least three or four moments where it's very likely the audience you see it with will cheer; and in the end, you will actually feel pretty great. But it will be because you have witnessed something you've never seen before, or at least something you haven't seen in a long time. This is a film that will stick to your lungs like a glorious cancer, forcing you to think about it every time you breathe. That's the best kind of filmmaking. Don't be scared; go see this twisted masterpiece.