Friday, April 10, 2009

Review: "Observe and Report"

"Observe and Report" starts out on a promising note, with a few scenes genuinely worth a guffaw or three, and for a time I'd hoped that the incubating genre of mall-cop comedies was taking a leap forward after "Paul Blart: Mall Cop."

But then the Seth Rogen character goes on an extended depression bender where he starts threatening people, smashing store displays and getting into bloody fisticuffs with real police officers. There's a scene where he gets perp-walked out of his own mall, face battered to a bloody pulp as he glares at the television cameras, where I thought the filmmakers had actually experienced a psychotic break during production.

It's not just that the movie forgets to be a funny for a while; it seems to revel in its bleak and dreary phase. If it's possible for a film to go off its meds, this one did.

Here you are expecting a dippy comedy, and then it decides to go all "Taxi Driver" on you.

Fortunately, "Observe" gathers itself together for an outrageously funny ending that makes the towel-dropping in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" look pretty tame.

Is it worth paying for a flick that's funny two-thirds of the time, and nearly unwatchable the rest? It depends on your pain threshold. For my money, that's an awful lot of sour to swallow with the sweet.

The set-up is similar to "Paul Blart": Rogen plays Ronnie, the chief mall cop who takes his job way, way too seriously. Ronnie wants to outfit mall security with automatic weapons, and publicly threatens to "effing murder" the flasher who keeps exposing himself to women.

It's not just that Ronnie has delusions of grandeur; even his delusions are pretty screwy. He wants to help people, but only if it involves killing. He seems to envision himself as a cross between Shane and the Columbine nutcases.

Ronnie is sweet on the bleach-blonde girl at the makeup counter (Anna Faris) because he's too dimwitted to see what a skeeze she is. Meanwhile, the coffee girl (Collette Wolfe) with a bum leg and inner sunshine would clearly like to offer him more than a free cup o' joe.

Some of the best scenes deal with Ronnie's leadership of the security crew, which consists of a lisping lieutenant (Michael Peña), a pair of Asian-American twins and a trainee. When the trainee complains that their meetings are conducted off the clock, Ronnie berates him with equal measures of passion and cluelessness: "How much did they get paid to storm Normandy? How much did King Arthur get paid to kill Merlin?"

Rogen has great dim-bulb charm, like an oversized puppy that destroys stuff and slobbers in your shoes, but you forgive him when he looks at you that certain way. But even Rogen can't save the movie during its scary phase.

"Observe and Report" was written and directed by Jody Hill, who did a little kung fu comedy called "The Foot Fist Way" starring Danny McBride that charmed a lot of showbiz comedy heavyweights. (McBride makes a very short but very funny cameo here.) Hill seems to have solid comedy instincts, so I'd love to see if he can make a movie that's funny all the way through, without going completely off the rails, like this one did.

2 stars

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