Have you ever seen a movie so abysmally awful that you wondered how it ever found its way into a theater near you? Why were millions of dollars spent on its production? Whatever possessed the actors to appear in such schlock? Ladies and gentleman of the jury, I give you Exhibit A: Observe and Report.
As the lowly head of mall security, Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) fancies himself the bad-ass boss of the building. But when hotshot Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) steals Ronnie’s defender-of-the-mall thunder after a pervert begins exposing himself to unsuspecting women in the mall parking lot, Ronnie turns his sights to becoming a legitimate police officer. This inspires a battle of one-upmanship that boils over when Harrison steals away Ronnie’s dimwit love interest Brandi (Anna Faris). The feud culminates in Ronnie’s manic-depressive meltdown/showdown at the mall against Harrison and a team of police officers in the film’s third—but definitely not final—display of senseless violence played for laughs.
Director and screenwriter Jody Hill seems tickled pink to present a 90-minute series of gratuitous and painfully unfunny sex and nudity gags, racist and misogynistic one-liners, and displays of personal flaws that are too disconcerting to be funny. The movie substitutes immature humor in the form of garish dick jokes and outbursts of “funny” violence in place of anything actually clever or witty. It’s as though Hill’s inspiration for the film came from a drunk and stoned conversation with Seth Rogen where one said to the other, “Hey, you know what would be REALLY funny to put in a movie?” You can’t even label this as a sophomoric comedy; it hasn’t even graduated from middle school yet.
The film attempts to endear Ronnie to viewers with his tenderhearted care for his alcoholic, couch-potato mother, his everyman persona, and Ray Liotta’s bully-on-the-playground character. But Ronnie is no Forrest Gump, and Rogen is this generation’s lesser Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell; he’s stupid without being charming or funny, obnoxious, and too much of a true loser in this film to warrant a cheering section. Michael Pena, playing Rogen’s sidekick mall deputy Dennis, lisps his way to infamy as the only funny aspect of the film simply because he’s playing so undeniably against type. Anna Faris, a quirky stick figure of boobs and blondeness, has no self-respect in this film, degrading herself and Ronnie in a bold and shocking “love scene” (if it can be called that) with Seth Rogen that somehow got past the censors. And then there is Ray Liotta: The same actor who once walked out of a cornfield as Shoeless Joe in Field of Dreams and rode around with Robert De Niro in Goodfellas is, well...he’s in this movie. What can I say? What a fall from grace.
Observe and Report is to that other mall security guard comedy of 2009, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, as Volcano was to Dante’s Peak, or as Armageddon was to Deep Impact. Except that while those four movies were of a comparable quality, I’m pretty sure Paul Blart: Mall Cop—a film I have no desire to ever see—is a far more rewarding film experience than Observe and Report—and that is saying something. I mean, mall cops? I tell you, I was embarrassed to have this film burnt into my retinas.
It is fitting that this film is about a bipolar mall security guard who lives out his delusions of heroism as a misfit Travis Bickle–wannabe. In a similar way, Observe and Report deludes itself into believing it’s actually funny. The only thing scarier than the fact that this movie was financed, filmed, and distributed is the fact that people will actually pay money to see it, and still worse, they will enjoy it.