The violent, viscious Observe is, above all things, a brilliant satire

by Beacon Staff • April 8, 2009

Actor Seth Rogen has paved his career with characters that are at once huggable teddy bears and frustratingly short-sighted slackers. In his new film, iObserve and Report/i, he turns that recognizable character on its head with the deranged, delusional role of Ronnie Barnhardt.

This subversive, hilarious dark comedy is written and directed by Jody Hill, who made a small name for himself in Hollywood with the indie comedy iThe Foot Fist Way/i (made in 2006 but released in theaters last summer), which got actor Danny McBride a show-stealing role in the blockbuster hit iTropic Thunder/i.

This is Hill's second feature, and he's made a bold decision to conquer the potentially unfunny world of shopping mall security guards, as January's kid-friendly iPaul Blart: Mall Cop/i attempted to do.

Instead of poking silly fun at that environment with Kevin James karate-chopping his way through, Hill decided to examine it for what it really is: a vapid, surreal black hole where dreams don't really exist and nothing actually matters.

That may seem like a sweeping generalization, but by the time the movie's over, one can't help but feel that way. Hill has assembled a fantastic cast to flesh out the sadistically satirical script: the pitch-perfect Anna Faris (iThe House Bunny/i, iSmiley Face/i), Ray Liotta (iGoodfellas/i, /iCop Land/i), Michael Pentilde;a (iCrash/i, iLions for Lambs/i), Celia Weston (iThe Talented Mr. Ripley/i, iJunebug/i), and the lovely, relatively unknown Collette Wolfe (iThe Foot Fist Way/i, iFour Christmases/i).

Ronnie (Rogen) is a lonely mall security guard who is thrilled to take on the role of detective when a bizarre man starts to flash his genitals at unsuspecting women in the parking lot. Ronnie begins to think, walk, talk and act like he's starring in the new iDie Hard/i film, as if he's been ready for it his whole life.

Ronnie lives at home with his alcoholic mother (the brilliant Celia Weston), and has never known his father. Rogen digs dark and deep with Ronnie, never afraid to alienate audiences by making him strange, unlikeable and troubled. It's some of the best, richest acting he's ever done.

In a wickedly funny scene, Ronnie nervously asks his mother if it was his fault his father left, and she drunkenly replies with a straightforward "Yes."

Unlike his character in iKnocked Up/i, Ronnie doesn't save the day with a sweet smile and a baby book; he's a guy who doesn't learn from his mistakes and doesn't quite know how real people should behave.

What makes Hill such a good writer is that he knows not to leave us in the cold by simply having us sit back and laugh at these sad people failing at life; he makes us recognize their humanity, their capacity for understanding and the quiet pain of their struggle. Then he immediately pulls the rug out from under us, and a second later, we're laughing again.

Hill is courageous and admirable for deciding not to care what anyone thinks of his Hollywood debut-there is a sex scene in which one of the characters is half-awake with vomit coming out of her mouth, there is a chase scene with more than a fair share of obese male nudity, there are various scenes featuring surprisingly real violence, and there seems to be no attention paid to how realistic the whole thing is.

This may sound like a horrendous concoction of ingredients, but what makes Observe and Report movie so smart is that it captures the essence of its subject.

So typically American and consumerist, malls are most often associated with socializing, shopping, and eating.

But Hill goes beneath the surface to reveal the psyche of a mall, the people in it and their inevitable irrelevance in the grand scheme of things. Hill assesses that for mall employees, reality is man-made, so it's easy to lose a grip on the world outside.

iObserve and Report/i is one of the most original comedies in quite some time, and Rogen's Ronnie Barnhardt has all the makings of a classic 21st century character.