This is the Seth Rogen I've been waiting to see.
Seriously, I know you love Seth Rogen. With the exception of Kevin Smith's "Zack & Miri Make a Porno," you've shown up en masse for virtually all of his films.
He's been good...sometimes, quite good, in his lovable schlub routine baggin' the babes and embracin' the bromance.
"Observe and Report?"
You haven't seen this Seth Rogen.
If Scorsese had put some levity into "Taxi Driver," it might've looked a lot like "Observe and Report."
Maybe, if Jim Carrey hadn't camped it up quite so much, "The Cable Guy" would have looked a lot like "Observe and Report."
Truthfully, I'll be surprised if "Observe and Report" attracts anything near the box-office of Rogen's Apatow films. "Observe and Report" is darker, more menacing, more unhinged and, yes it's true, Seth Rogen has never been better than he is in the film.
While Rogen has always nailed the funny, sensitive guy aspects of his characters, he's always fallen short of the emotional depth and more vulnerable sides of his characters. In "Observe and Report," Rogen is relentlessly funny, creepy, vulnerable, raging and even heroic.
If you think seeing one mall cop flick this year is enough, think again. I enjoyed "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" for what it was...a generic, lighthearted flick that worked almost solely because Kevin James threw himself into it.
There's nothing generic about "Observe and Report." "Observe and Report" is dark, funny, disturbing and will have you chuckling even while you're appalled by your own chuckling as you leave the theatre.
Writer/Director Jody Hill ("The Foot Fist Way") has fashioned a film that probably tells the truth about Paul Blart through the persona of Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen), a bipolar (literally!) head of mall security who springs into action when a flasher (Randy Gambill, "Eastbound & Down") begins accosting mall customers by flashing the family jewels and screaming obscenities.
Ronnie is obsessed with guns, obsessed with a beautiful make-up saleswoman who finds him repulsive (Anna Faris) and still living at home with his obviously alcoholic mother (Celia Weston).
In other words, Ronnie has issues.
Ronnie also has big dreams, and the flasher's sudden mall appearance gives Ronnie the chance, at least in his own eyes, to become the hero. His plans, of course, are interrupted by real life Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) and a rather inept, mischievious crew of fellow mall cops led by his right hand man, Dennis (Michael Pena).
Rogen's performance is reminiscent of when Jim Carrey started taking on darker material, and I must confess my own surprise that he pulls this thing off.
I mean. C'mon, really. You've seen the trailers? They suck. This film LOOKS awful.
It's not. It's really, really not. While "Observe and Report" is occasionally uneven, it's frequently funny, shocking and uncomfortable all rolled into one.
I loved it.
In case you haven't caught on to my viewpoint, Seth Rogen gives what is easily the best performance of his career here by grounding Ronnie just enough that he's creepy, really creepy and simultaneously quite funny. Rogen had cautioned audiences in recent interviews that he went a different direction with "Observe and Report," and boy did he ever. Rogen's Ronnie is quite disturbing and, while it's often played for laughs, one can't help but be grateful that Hill doesn't give the film any artificial feel-good, lovey-dovey happy endings.
Anna Faris is spot-on perfect as the bitchy, histrionic blonde of Ronnie's affections, and Ray Liotta keeps it real and real funny as Detective Harrison. Michael Pena adds yet another stellar supporting turn here as a slightly lisping, yet genuinely affecting mall cop with an agenda. Celia Weston goes completely over the top, ricochets back and bounces back over the top as Ronnie's hilariously stereotypical alcoholic mother who is completely clueless when it comes to nurturing. In one of the film's few low-key roles, Collette Wolfe ("Four Christmases") adds a nice warmth as Nell, one of the few kind people in Ronnie's life and, in fact, it is in his scenes with Nell that Rogen reaches a level of vulnerability that he'd never achieved onscreen.
Filmed simply yet effectively in New Mexico, tech credits are solid across the board with a particularly strong soundtrack.
"Observe and Report" is rated R and, not unexpectedly, earns its rating with gratuitous F-bombs and full frontal male nudity (in what is arguably one of the film's most gleeful and entertaining scenes).
Filled with action, humor, absurdity, darkness, humanity and relentlessly ballsy, "Observe and Report" is one of 2009's most delightful surprises.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic