Observe and Report
The New Millennium’s Keystone Cops

Theatrical Release Date: 04/10/2009
Director: Jody Hill
Cast: Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Ray Liotta, Michael Peña, John Yuan, Matt Yuan, Dan Bakkedahl, Jesse Plemons, Celia Weston

Seth Rogen appears to be everywhere these days. You can’t seem to make an Apatow film without him (how he didn’t score a part in “Step Brothers” is a mystery), his turn as writer/actor in “Superbad” was a huge commercial success, he’s rocking that ridiculously funny laugh in “Monsters vs. Aliens” and next year will see him donning The Green Hornet’s mask in a high profile summer extravaganza. So it comes as no surprise that his turn as the head of security at an Albuquerque, New Mexico mall in “Observe and Report” would get a load of marketing push and public appearances prior to its release.

In the film, he and his crack team of mall cops must apprehend both a flasher and someone who’s been robbing the mall’s stores overnight. Of course, no respect is ever given the security forces of such facilities (though Kevin Smith tried in some small degree with “Mallrats”) and what follows is a series of wildly inappropriate and infantile attempts by Rogen and crew to exact justice.

Now, one thing I must get out of the way quickly is that this film really earns its R rating. I tend to rely on personal diction more appropriate to a drunken sailor and as such, often don’t notice characters in films dropping F,A and/or S-bombs. The characters in this film have apparently replaced using “uh” or “like” as verbal filler with swear words and it felt like every third or fourth word was something Ralphie’s mom would have deemed worthy of a good soapin’. Aside from the strong language, there’s a decent amount of alcohol and drug use and way, way, way, way, WAY too much flabby, flacid, full frontal male nudity (and no, taking any of those adjectives away wouldn’t help me).

Of course, that didn’t stop a few parents from bringing their 6-10 year-olds to the film, much to my chagrin. And even worse, the kids really enjoyed it and I again hope that I die at a young age so that I’m not forced to rely on the youth of today to maintain the social services necessary to make old age comfortable.

Back to the merits of the film, Rogen really dives into his character, embracing the arrogant, delusional and boorish nature of it – all while maintaining enough heart to remain sympathetic. The manner in which he conducts his investigation, relates to mall employees and maintains morale among his security team is a guilty pleasure and I often found myself having to remember that if this character existed in real life, it would make for a very sad Jerry Springer interview.

Plunging headfirst into the comedy depths with Rogen is Anna Faris. Her comedic roles have shown a fierce willingness and commitment to playing the roles she’s given to the fullest. Faris has no qualms about proceeding at speeds approaching plaid when it comes to hurtling herself towards over-the-top and often shameless characters. Here, she’s the mall’s resident slut and object of Rogen’s hormonal obsession. Using her lack of comedic inhibitions, Faris paints the character with reckless abandon and rampant stupidity. It’s special … in a good way.

Other standouts in the cast are Michael Peña as Rogen’s right hand man, Ray Liotta as the real police detective brought in to apprehend the flasher and Celia Weston as Rogen’s alcoholic but loving mother. Each share Rogen and Faris’ drive to hold nothing back in their characters and the result is definite win for the audience.

Smaller, but also effective, cameos come from Danny McBride (who starred in director Jody Hill’s first feature, “The Foot Fist Way“) as a crack dealer and Patton Oswalt makes for a delightfully jerky cinnamon rolls franchise manager.

The downside to the film is perhaps most attributed however to the script and direction coming from Hill. As with “The Foot Fist Way”, there’s a severe lack of focus to the film. The strength of the actors largely makes up for this but there’s often an almost indescribable problem with the pacing and feel of the film. I frequently found myself wondering what was missing but knowing that things just felt off. Perhaps because of the budget and/or his lack of directing experience, Hill fails to give “Observe and Report” the polish one has come to expect from Rogen’s comedies over the last few years. Having seen, and somewhat enjoyed, his previous work, I wasn’t too surprised by it but I would have preferred a steadier hand behind the scenes to elevate the film to attain that little bit more that could have made the film iconic, not just funny.

Still, funny is good and deciding if this film is for you comes down to your comedic sensibilities. Fans of raunchy, tasteless and ultra foul-mouthed humor will find much to like here. If you prefer a bit more sophistication and subtlety to tickle your funny bone, seek fulfillment elsewhere. I happen to enjoy films and characters whose best descriptive word is “wrong” and so I had a good time watching “Observe and Report”, having to denigrate it to a 3 out of 5 mostly because of how unfocused the script and direction are most of the time.

For all those who are worried about seeing a second Mall Cop film this year, just remember: One of them was made to congenially elicit laughter from middle America … this one wants to punch the laughs out of your belly while telling you what a bleeping disgrace to humanity that sad sack you call a body has become. Also, why in hell did you see the first film? I didn’t even bother to review it and I’m the idiot who watched “Miss March“.