Monday, April 13, 2009

Observed and Reported

Observe and Report is the third movie in about as many weeks where the trailer is somewhat misleading about the kind of film being advertised. (The two previous were Adventureland and Duplicity.) I'll take the position that this is due to the entirely laudable reason that these were different movies and hard for the marketing folks to pigeonhole. (None of these flicks have been blockbusters, either.)

In fact, while the trailer up until about last week had made the movie seem like a Will Ferrell-esque clown movie, the last trailer played a whole bunch more, making the movie seem more awkward and painful. I was on the fence before and leaning against it, but The Boy was rather enthused, so off we went.

It probably says too much about me that I really enjoyed this. It ping-pongs between a somewhat exaggerated broad comedy, and a black humor that borders on the tragic, much like the main character's manic depression. It also surprised me on three or four occasions, which is not something I'm accustomed to.

The story is that Seth Rogan plays Ronnie Barnhardt, a mall cop with a bloated sense of self-importance. Hilarious, right? We had one of those movies this year already! This is really no coincidence, by the way: Studios get wind that one of their competitiors is coming out with a movie about meteors, volcanos, mall cops or whatever, and they'll try to get their own product in there.

Anyway, the mall is being terrorized by a flasher. Which, I confess, struck me as quaint. (Can women today be terrorized by a flasher? I'd rather hope not.) Ronnie, of course, has only the sort of police skills one picks up from watching David Caruso dramatically take off his sunglasses. And when the beautiful cosmetics counter girl (Anna Farris) is traumatized, the cops are called in.

I love Anna Farris: She has the looks to go full bimbo, but somewhere about Scary Movie 3 she seems to have given her all to comedy. She actually plays a bimbo here, and a simply horrible person besides.

Meanwhile, the cop is played by the cruelly handsome Ray Liotta, who must endure Ronnie's endless boasting and posturing, even as the mall cop ends up eating up his day with stupid dead-ends.

So, typical wacky comedy right?

But then we see Ronnie's home life, and alcoholic mom (played by Celia Weston, who strongly recalls a younger Louis Lasser), and the laughs are of a completely different character. We see that he cares about something other than himself and also that his clownishness has a lot to do with his dreams and ambitions.

There are a lot of alternating scenes like this. Ronnie is an insufferable jerk, but then it turns out that his megalomania is the result of actual manic-depression. He invites the world to treat him badly, but sometimes when it does, he becomes surprisingly effective. We see him neglect the sweet and charming Toast-A-Bun girl most of the times, but also come surprisingly to her aid, even if in a terribly inappropriate way.

I can't believe that this sort of movie has a broad appeal. It sets itself up in a very generic fashion--I knew instantly that Nell would be the true love interest instead of Brandi, for example--but then it refuses to overplay or oversell the comedy, and instead sells a strange violent twist.

Funny, if you can laugh at that sort of thing. Which I can. And The Boy can as well.

But if you find that sort of thing disturbing, this isn't your movie.


  1. One review I saw called it "Taxi Driver as a comedy."

  2. Yeah.

    I didn't get all my thoughts down on this one. I think what I liked about it is that it wasn't--despite everything--cynical.

    The hero really is heroic in his own limited, defective way, which makes him a lot better than most of the people around him.


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