Observe and Report's humour is heavier on horror than hilarity

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Starring Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, and Ray Liotta. Rated 18A.

To encourage people to see Observe and Report on the basis that it’s just the latest Seth Rogen grossfest verges on practical jokery. The poster features the bearish Vancouver actor in a security guard’s uniform. You’d think that his character, Ronnie Barnhardt, is merely a younger, more profane Paul Blart.


Watch the trailer for Observe and Report.

Indeed, it is a story set in a mall, starring Rogen as a swaggering “head of security” who still lives with his mom and dreams of being a real policeman when not fantasizing about a cute mall employee. You think it’ll be basically harmless. Just as you’d assume, when raiding someone else’s fridge, that the yellow liquid must be apple juice.

Then again, it’s good to try new things. It’s kind of fun to see a movie with, arguably, no sympathetic characters. From Rogen as the mall cop to Anna Faris as his vapid crush to Ray Liotta as a real detective, the behavior is usually selfish, occasionally appalling, even shocking. But it’s not cartoon villainy, either.

Rogen, in particular, gives a fantastically nuanced performance. His Ronnie may be an insensitive, power-tripping dimwit who should be the last person permitted authority and weapons, but he’s also always completely believable and sometimes pitiable. Liotta’s policeman—who first crosses swords with Ronnie when he's called to the mall to investigate a report of a flasher—is tolerant with Ronnie up to a point. But he's also capable of abusing his power out of pure, petty spite. They’re not monsters—they’re pricks.

Writer-director Jody Hill presents it all with flat, ironic distance that is Napoleon Dynamite-ish in its witty, willful oddness but also in its condescension, in that the viewer is pretty sure to feel sophisticated and/or ethical in comparison. The movie follows typical comedy structure and editing but addles the content. There is hilarity but more embarrassment and horror than comfortably allows laughter, per se.

A character says: “I thought this was going to be funny, but it’s just kind of sad.” This could well be the author’s message.

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