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Observe and Report

Jody Hill likes his men macho.

Well, he likes his protagonists macho… and delusional. As a director, Hill has made a living of telling the story of blowhard, testosterone-laden meatheads with their heads so far up their own asses they have no clue how the real world works (i.e.: The Foot Fist Way, HBO’s Eastbound and Down). Hill likes to explore similar themes in his films such as vanity and vulnerability, pride and shallowness, regret and redemption. In doing so though, he creates movies that are peeks behind the curtain of many a façade in American life. It’s almost like he picks the most douchey of people and then tries to write a compelling film around their sad and pathetic lives.

If he did just that, it might just come off mean, but Hill does one better. He humanizes all of his subjects and creates honest comedy from real pain. Hill’s new film, Observe and Report starring Seth Rogen, continues the trend, telling the story of a bi-polar mall security guard who’s heading towards some dark days.

Much like Hill's other films, Observe and Report takes another stereotypical American cultural archetype and explores its unpleasant underbelly. In Foot Fist, Hill took on the bullish Tae Kwon Do instructor type, in Eastbound he speared southern professional baseball pros and here he takes on yet another snicker-inspiring role, that of the Mall Cop. Not to be confused with the other recent and more successful Mall Cop Movie, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Hill’s Observe and Report is an R rated trek into madness as it straps you in and drags you along with one man’s personal breakdown.

Rogen plays Ronnie Barnhardt, a chubby, hapless head of security at a New Mexico shopping mall. Surrounded by a motley crew of knuckleheaded underlings, Ronnie is king of his food court, patrolling the grounds and keeping things safe, all the while pining for the hot make up counter girl Brandi (The amazingly effective Anna Farris). When a pervert flasher strikes the mall and traumatizes poor Brandi, Ronnie makes it his mission to catch the pervert and protect the mall at all costs.

In Ronnie’s way is Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta). Not respecting Ronnie’s authority, Harrison leads the real investigation and swoops in on Ronnie’s assumed territory creating a bitter rivalry… at least in Ronnie’s eyes. It this rivalry and ultimately this case, though, that ignites something deep inside Ronnie. A change begins to happen in Ronnie Barnhardt and quirky movie quickly turns into dark comedy.

Observe and Report is a strong film, and may be Hill’s best so far. It’s so very nuanced and full of quirk, but at the same time it is so very real and blunt. Ronnie can be immediately written off as a cartoon mall cop stereotype, but Hill and more importantly Rogen make Ronnie a person. Ronnie is cocksure and confident in uniform, but timid and loving to his grossly alcoholic mother (Celia Weston). He’s an eager and willing student to fellow security guard Dennis (the over the top yet satisfyingly funny Michael Peña ) and fatherly and mentoring to his other mall cop minions.

He also has bi-polar disorder, and after a life changing altercation with some street thugs, Ronnie is off his meds. This mall cop has depth, and Observe and Report suddenly becomes a film you can’t take your eyes off of.

Not for the masses, Observe and Report is going to disappoint the casual film goer who’s looking for the next Knocked Up. This film pushes a lot of society’s boundaries and requires insight to see a lot of the satire that’s inconspicuously strewn throughout the narrative.

At some points the film is even narrated by Rogen a la Robert Deniro and brings on that dirty Taxi Driver feel. Like Travis Bickle, all Ronnie wants is to protect the innocent, even it means becoming the beast he’s trying to stop.

Observe and Report may sound like it has a real heavy premise but it is actually a pretty funny comedy. However, it’s a comedy that’s packaged within a very strong movie about macho delusions of grandeur and manliness. Seth Rogen gives one of the strongest acting performances of his career and proves that he’s not just the comedy “it boy” of the moment and that he’s actually a talented performer with a long future ahead of him.

The only problem I had with the film was that I felt like the ending chickened out and that possibly the studio had pushed for a more suitable ending. If anyone watched the alternate ending of Foot Fist Way, they might understand this.

However, I was quite impressed with what Jody Hill accomplished with Observe and Report and feel it is a film that will go underappreciated with the mass audiences but will be respected and revered for years to come.

Lon Lopez

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