You’ve met him before. That fast food manager who is content to spend his days bossing around 16 year olds, or maybe that store clerk who gave up a long time ago and is coasting along with no pay and no future. That’s who this movie is about. It’s not a comedy in the traditional sense as much as a surreal tragedy that uses laughter as the only way of establishing a connection between the audience and the characters, all of which are otherwise unrelatable. For those instant comparisons to “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” let me assure you, this movie has more in common with black comedies like “Dr. Strangelove,” “Fargo” and “Death to Smoochy” than “Blart,” which was another “fatty fall down” flick 10 years and one star behind it’s time.
Seth Rogan takes time off from playing himself in four films a year to play Ronnie Barnhardt, a mall security guard. Sorry, head of mall security. He takes the title and the job with the utmost seriousness. He might live with his mom, but he is king of the mall. He’s generally a jerk and doesn’t care about anyone else. His falsified ego seems to get in the way of his day to day duties and social interactions.
Surrounding him is is makeshift squad of guards, all of whom seem pretty content to spend their days pushing around what little influence they have.
The story gets kicked into motion by a flasher, who is making the mall his new stomping grounds. Ronnie, in an attempt to impress Brandi (Anna Faris), a makeup saleswoman, devotes his whole life to finding and stopping this flasher.
Written by: Jody Hill
Starring: Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Ray Liotta
Running time: 86 minutes
At least that’s how the movie starts. Somewhere in the middle it intentionally ignores Ronnie’s quest to focus on a series of robberies, and Ronnie realizes he has been lying to himself about his own importance. Pushing his weight around for free coffee from the disabled girl in the food court doesn’t seem as appealing, and Ronnie tries to become an actual cop. Inspired by the work of his rival, Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), Ronnie pushes himself to prove that he’s more than just a mall cop.
Up until this point, it all seems possible. Sure, it’s full of gags, jokes and comedic situations, but it’s something resembling a real life. I am going to skip the meat of the film and jump straight to the end so as not to give away the whole thing, so a big spoiler alert from here on out. If you don’t want to know what happens, skip to the last 2 paragraphs. They will be spoiler free.
At this point, the movie becomes the classic antihero story from “Taxi Driver.” Though not shot for shot, it possesses a lot of the same plot, almost all of the same themes and an ending that is so off and absurd that you begin to question whether it happened.
Two scenes in particular show just how far this movie is from a traditional comedy. Ronnie pummels, berates and threatens a food court manager after his handicapped employee breaks down after spending the movie being verbally abused. Pressing the manager’s face up against an oven, you begin to wonder if Ronnie is sane or not. Your laughing at how absurd it is, but the movie takes this scene very seriously. Nothing is actually funny, and it’s actually pretty frightening if not taken in context of the movie.
Later, after being fired from mall security, Ronnie refuses to leave and badly injuries many cops with his flashlight, before losing in a fistfight with Harrison. Again, the scene is funny, but the brutality shines through a lot more. How does a man, even one shown to be great at the physical aspects of law enforcement take down 10 cops? It was as though the realism in the film was intentionally removed.
At the end of the movie, Ronnie returns to the mall to find the disabled coffee shop employee’s leg has healed, her hair done nice and now wants to be with Ronnie for what he did for her. While there, the flasher reappears and a chase ensues. It ends when Ronnie zips into a side door while the flasher reaches Brandi, and then against all common sense and expectations, reappears and shoots the flasher in the chest.
Yes, shoots him in the chest.
Apparently it is only a minor chest wound because Ronnie still finds the time to call Brandi a whore who broke his heart, receive keys to the mall golf cart from his manager and drop the badly injured flasher at the doorstep of the police station in front of Detective Harrison. He is commended for his work, goes back to working at the mall and stays with the coffee shop girl.
If this sounds a bit impossible, I assure you, it is. Everything about it is wrong, and rather how Ronnie’s egomaniacal self would see them if they every even happened. This is the ending that parallels “Taxi Driver,” in that the “hero” of the story somehow gets away with everything. Whether it happened or not is up for interpretation. Is it just the bi-polar Ronnie, finally snapping and subduing to dementia? Perhaps he died fighting those cops, or at another point in the movie, and this is his last thoughts? Maybe, he is just the luckiest man on earth, and it is exactly how it happened? Much like “Taxi Driver,” there won’t be a true answer to any of these questions.
Ok, from now on, this review is spoiler free.
No, “Observe and Report” is not “Knocked up,” “Superbad” or “Pineapple Express.” It’s also not “Apocalypse Now” or some snuff film like other reports make it out to be. It’s something in-between. It’s a black comedy. You laugh because you can’t relate and can see the absurdity from the outside, not because you want to be like them. No one is a role model in this movie. It certainly lives up to it’s R rating. The black comedy never hits big in theatres, yet always becomes a cult classic. This one looks destined to be the same.