Dir: Jody Hill
The hero of Observe And Report is Ronnie Barnhart, a mall security guard played by Seth Rogen. Ronnie is a violent, mentally unbalanced racist who at one point date rapes the girl of his dreams. Ladies and gentlemen, our hero.
Here are a few things this movie thinks are funny. Assault - sexual and violent - racism, police corruption, psychosis, alcoholism, drug abuse, rape. Just writing that list makes me both sad and angry, which is pretty much how I felt on leaving this film. I had spent 86 minutes (really, only 86 minutes? It felt like half my life) being offended at just about every possible level. I’d spent 86 minutes watching a film that, even if it wasn’t unspeakably offensive, still wouldn’t have been funny.
Jody Hill seems to want to model himself on provocateur Todd Solondz, whose films Happiness, Welcome to the Dollhouse and Palindromes all deal with very near the knuckle material (including child abuse and stalking) and yet are funny in the blackest and bleakest possible ways. The difference is that Solondz understands his characters, and doesn’t judge them one way or another, however corrupt they may be. Hill, on the other hand, holds up Ronnie’s total corruption and spends the whole movie celebrating him, without challenging or making him change his attitudes or actions one iota, and depicting him unambiguously as a hero.
Hill’s jokes are pathetic. People fall over, people get hit by other people and by things, people get shouted at and abused in various ways, and one person shows his penis. These are the jokes; this is what, after 115 years of moving pictures, we’ve arrived at; people giggling at a penis. The Lumiere brothers would be so proud. There isn’t a single laugh, not a smile, not a titter, to be found anywhere in this so-called comedy. The only thing in the whole sorry enterprise that didn’t make me think I’d have had more fun removing my eyes with a rusty fork was a young actress I’ve never seen before named Collette Wolfe. She plays an employee at the mall’s doughnut shop who, inexplicably, falls for Ronnie. She looks like Amy Adams, and has the same nuclear powered smile and ability to hold a screen. I really hope that I can see more of her in the future because, for a few minutes at least, she makes Observe And Report seem like it might, in some alternate universe, have been good. But Wolfe is the only person to emerge clean from this sewer of a movie.
The rest of the cast are all lost in some hideous comic wilderness. For instance the talented Celia Weston is reduced to playing a drunk whose only comic characteristic is to occasionally fall over, while Michael Pena has decided that a lisp is hilarious. John and Matt Yuan don’t bother with jokes, because apparently being Chinese and identical twins is a riot all on its own. Anna Faris is a specialist at mining big laughs from shitty movies, but even she can’t find anything here, and she’s the butt of the movie’s most hateful sequence (which is really saying a lot). Seth Rogen, to his credit, works hard, but even if he’d given a performance to stand alongside DeNiro’s peerless Rupert Pupkin, Observe And Report still would have been a waste of everybody’s time. Just a week after Crank: High Voltage seemed to have the title sewn up, here is 2009’s most hateful, most disgusting and most dispiriting film.