Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Review: Observe & Report

A Warner Brothers release 2009

Written & Directed by Jody Hill

Bi-polar mall security guard Ronnie Barnhardt is called into action to stop a flasher from turning shopper's paradise into his personal peep show. But when Barnhardt can't bring the culprit to justice, a surly police detective is recruited to close the case.

After the delirious high that was Eastbound & Down, I had much hope for this comedy helmed by Eastbound co-creator Jody Hill. Mr. Hill, it seems, has a penchant for mining foul-mouthed, aggressive, unlikeable characters for comedy gold. Unfortunately the schtick is too thin here. Hill's script doesn't push far enough, and Seth Rogan is terribly miscast as the bi-polar, pill popping mall cop. Rogan is too jovial and affable to make the deranged, obsessive personality of his character come to life. And since most, if not all of the film rests on his shoulders, it falls flat in the end.

Supporting actors Ray Liotta and Anna Faris are given little to work with; in fact, their presence barely registers. Sadly, most of the film suffers from this half-assed feel -- characters feel more like sketches, and the plot meanders without much story supporting it. The events of the film sort of just happen, there's no rhyme or reason to it. Through lines are set up and then left sitting for a while until they either resolve themselves or are forgotten. Others simply barely exist to begin with, like a feud between Ronnie and an Arab store worker that is basically comprised of a bunch of Fuck you!'s back and forth.

Ronnie's personality troubles are glossed over with the blanket "bi-polar" explanation, except nothing about what Ronnie says or does is particularly emblematic of someone actually suffering from bi-polar disorder. This was particularly upsetting to me; it seems to be a recent trend in films to use bi-polar disorder as an excuse for a character's odd or aggressive behavior. Anyone who acts out of tune in a film is suddenly a "bi-polar" character, regardless of the accuracy of the representation. Someone needs to call bullshit on this: bi-polar disorder is real, and to use it simply as an excuse to create batshit aggressive characters is unacceptable. There's a way to constructively explore bi-polar disorder and it's affects on people, even through comedy, but so far it's only been approached as a blank justification for petty behavior, and I ain't buying.

But forget the bi-polar thing: many critics and outspoken individuals have been up in arms about a scene in which Rogan's character is having sex with a seemingly unconscious Anna Faris, only to hear her cry out "I didn't tell you to stop, mother fucker!" when he begins to second guess his actions. "Date rape!" they cried. "Inappropriate! Too far!" Frankly, I think that's also bullshit; the joke didn't go far enough. It would have been funnier if they had taken that line out. You can't push a joke that far, only to pull it back at the end. It sucks the wind right out of the sails. Likewise, there's nothing suggestive in the scene that it promotes date rape or paints it in a positive light. That scene to me embodies the entire problem of the movie: Jody Hill can't seem to decide if he's going for a caustic, aggressively dark tone or Apatow-style slapstick raunch. He ends up with neither.

Observe & Report is a film that has a lot of ideas working underneath it but ends up with few of them making it onto the screen. It's a shame. The film suffers from so many tonal shifts and such a lack of breadth that it comes across as a faint blip. Hopefully they're just saving all the goods for Eastbound Season 2.