Seth Rogen, Mall Cop: On A Mission, Without A Clue

Seth Rogen i i

hide captionSeth Rogen plays Ronnie Barnhardt, an overzealous mall security guard in Observe and Report.

Peter Sorel/Warner Bros. Pictures
Seth Rogen

Seth Rogen plays Ronnie Barnhardt, an overzealous mall security guard in Observe and Report.

Peter Sorel/Warner Bros. Pictures

Observe and Report

  • Director: Jody Hill
  • Genre: Insult comedy
  • Running Time: 86 minutes

Rated R: copious profanity, full-frontal male nudity, sex, violence, drug and alcohol abuse

It's A Date i i

hide captionAnna Faris plays Brandi, the unlikable object of Ronnie's affections.

Warner Bros. Pictures
It's A Date

Anna Faris plays Brandi, the unlikable object of Ronnie's affections.

Warner Bros. Pictures
Twins i i

hide captionMall cops John Yuen (John Yuan) and Matt Yuen (Matt Yuan) track down a flasher.

Peter Sorel/Warner Bros. Pictures
Twins

Mall cops John Yuen (John Yuan) and Matt Yuen (Matt Yuan) track down a flasher.

Peter Sorel/Warner Bros. Pictures

The gamiest assault on America's name-brand Edens since Bad Santa, Jody Hill's Observe and Report takes more tasteless shots than Don Rickles at a roast for a disabled celebrity. And writer-director Hill is not afraid to blow away some of his targets.

The opening credits roll over a series of slo-mo vignettes of everyday shopping-mall life — mall walking, bullying, shoplifting — while the soundtrack offers The Band's version of "When I Paint My Masterpiece."

That song, and that moment, may be intended as a comment on the self-delusion of the movie's protagonist, mall security chief Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen). But it also feels like an invocation to the director of The Last Waltz, which documented The Band's farewell show. Because Observe and Report is the most Martin Scorsese-ish adolescent comedy ever, an ode to vigilantism that drops the f-word nearly as often as The Departed.

A chubby caricature of tough-guy cool, Ronnie is hostile to just about everyone, even when he's taking the meds for his bipolar disorder. He engages in profanity duels with an Arab-American mall peddler he's nicknamed "Saddam"; when interviewed by a TV reporter, Ronnie can't stop cursing her for getting his title wrong. And his relationships with his uniformed underlings, especially a lisping Mexican played by Michael Pena, are pathological.

Other than his alcoholic mother, in fact, the clueless Ronnie pretty much gets along with just one person: He has a major crush on tawdry cosmetics clerk Brandi (Anna Faris), who doesn't return his interest. Meanwhile, he's oblivious to the adoring smiles beamed his way by the coffee shop clerk with the bum leg (Collette Wolfe, a reasonable stand-in for Amy Adams).

Then the world's friskiest flasher, already seen annoying women in the mall's parking lot, exposes himself to Brandi — which Ronnie takes as an opportunity. He'll nab the exhibitionist, he imagines, and Brandi will fall into his arms. So Ronnie's not too happy when the mall's manager summons a real policeman, Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta, whose career peaked 20 years ago with Scorsese's Goodfellas).

Ronnie's rivalry with Harrison leads him to apply to the police force, a gig everyone else realizes he's too unstable to get. The wannabe cop never gets a real police badge, and eventually loses his mall-issued shield, too. To apprehend the "pervert," he'll just have to work outside the law.

Hill, who previously directed the kung fu farce The Foot Fist Way, collaborates with the usually affable Rogen to make Ronnie a dislikable, self-deceiving idiot. Then he has to flip that characterization — this is a comedy, after all — by handing the security guard a concluding triumph.

If Ronnie's turnaround feels bogus, the plot's schematics mean it doesn't matter all that much. Observe and Report is primarily designed to shock audiences into laughter, a goal Hill pursues with a familiar set of tools: vomit, blood, tasers, syringes and lots of invective. There's also, charmingly, a date-rape gag.

The movie's other purpose is show off someone's music collection. In addition to The Band, the soundtrack includes obscure British rock nuggets from the '60s (The Action), the '70s (Patto) and the '00s (McLusky).

That playlist proves that Observe and Report was shaped by a hip sensibility. Shame that sensibility didn't have more effect on the script.

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