I dont know about you, but the one complaint Im sick and tired of hearing about Taxi Driver is that there arent enough dick jokes.

Thank God, then, for Jody Hills Observe and Report, a deeply twisted take on Scorsese and De Niros seminal vigilante flick, in which Travis Bickles shoes are filled by Seth Rogen as an overweight, bipolar mall security guard with a penchant for high-caliber guns and delusions of grandeur. Its a raunchy, cheap-shot knee-slapper with disturbing glimpses of psychosis, plus a few startling blasts of graphic violence. The result might be the most tonally fucked major studio comedy since The Cable Guy.

Paul Blart, this is not.

Rogen hurls himself into the role of Ronnie Barnhardt with reckless abandon. No longer that cool, laidback pothead with the kickin Jewfro, hes now a tightly wound, hulking thug with a military bristle cut. Ronnie laughs too loud at all the wrong jokes, and barks urgent orders at his mall cop underlings as if they were stationed in Iraq. His unimpressive staff is filled out by Michael Peas overgroomed Latin dandy, Friday Night Lights resident marblemouth Jesse Plemons, and a couple of Asian twins who overlap each others dialogue with identical statements.

But all is not well at the Forest Ridge Mall. For starters, theres somebody robbing the place every night after closing. Yet trifling matters like grand larceny hardly concern Ronnie, as hes hell bent on capturing the malls trenchcoated flashera recurring nuisance last seen wiggling his privates at old ladies in the parking lot.

Observe and Report


Starring: Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Michael Pea

Director: Jody Hill

Opens Fri., April 10

The perverts biggest mistake was targeting Brandi, the contemptuous cosmetics counter gal and object of Ronnies obsession. Played by Anna Faris with her usual precision-ditz timing, Brandis the drunken-white-trash Cybill Shepherd to Rogens suburban sloth De Niro. It doesnt take much encouragement for Ronnie Barnhardt to decide that his purpose is to serve and protect his boozy, hiccupping angel and thats even before he goes off his meds.

Uneven at best, Observe and Report veers erratically from broad slapstick into darker, deeper waters that the filmmaker doesnt seem sure how to navigate. Hills debut feature, The Foot Fist Way, became a cult fetish item in comedy circles, thanks to the single-minded intensity with which Hill humiliated Danny McBrides dickhead protagonist.

Though a significantly more polished production (then again, its probably impossible to make a movie that looks more amateurish than Foot Fist), Hills sophomore effort boasts a similar m.o. He never tires of contrasting his characters outrageously inflated self-image with the banality of his surroundings. Time and again, we watch Ronnie and the security squad descending escalators in grandiose slow-motion, patented movie hero shots undercut by obese extras stuffing their faces at the pretzel kiosk in the background.

Ray Liotta turns up as a genuine police officer assigned to investigate the Forest Ridge robberies. Nobody seems to have told Liotta that hes in a comedy, so the actor plays it straight, growing edgier and more exasperated with Ronnies clueless interloping and verbal assaults. After one unfortunate exchange, Liottas partner excuses himself from the room saying, Im sorry. I thought this was going to be funny but its just sad.

The same could be said for the movie itself, which doesnt really hang together, yet remains so confrontational and off-putting that its hard not to muster a weird sort of respect for iteven when entire sequences just sort of dribble away on a dark cloud of bad vibes. Say what you will about Hills sicko squirmy humor, at least its distinctive.

But just when youre about to shrug it all off, along comes Observe and Reports shocker endinga sustained tour de force of grotesquerie capped by a punch line thats so outrageously wrong, I instantly forgave Hill for everything and cant wait to see what he does next.


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