Observe and Report is the second film from writer/director Jody Hill, also responsible for the awkwardly hilarious Foot Fist Way, starring the rapidly rising star Danny McBride. McBride has a small role in Observe and Report, but this film is pretty much a star vehicle for Seth Rogen; a chance for him too show some serious acting chops, albeit in a ridiculous role.
Rogen is perfectly cast as mall security guard Ronnie Barnhardt, a misfit egomaniac who lets the little power and responsibility he does have get to his head on a regular basis. He taunts and humiliates the other guards under his command, who don't seem to mind; in fact they actually look up to him for some reason. The obvious reason is that they, like him, are complete idiots, devoid of any of reason or notion of reality whatsoever. The scenario makes for some very contrived and often hilarious circumstances in which these clowns abuse their power to the point of absurdity. The second in command is played by the talented Michael Pena, who is frankly terrible in this role; a Hispanic caricature that is neither believable nor funny. Anna Faris plays Brandi, and is quite good at being a completely despicable slut, who also happens to be the object of Ronnies undying love and affection. Ray Liotta steps in as the prototypical, dickhead policeman who cock-blocks Ronnie, while simultaneously trying to get him killed.
All of this is well and good considering the supposed genre, until about the mid-point in the film where the film takes a turn for the dark and sadistic. We learn that Ronnie is bi-polar, was raised by a sex crazed, drunken lunatic of a mother, and then we subsequently get to watch him get beat to a pulp by about fifteen policemen. To top it off, we get to see his dreams to become a police officer completely crushed after failing the psychological exam, which Liotta's character then rubs in his face to the listening ears of one of his police buddies hiding in the office closet hoping for some cheap laughs. Most of this is handled with the comedic intuition and timing of a Gus Van Sant movie. I found the entire second half of this movie to be offensively not funny, and was downright disturbed at the maniacal laughter coming from some of the audience members sitting close to me.
As I mentioned before, Seth Rogen is quite good in this role, completely immersed in the insanity. Critics referred to it as a comedic Taxi Driver, and while Ronnie does share a similar character arch with Travis Bickle, there is nothing funny about any of it. Nothing. If they had chosen to remake Taxi Driver in this setting while playing it straight, it might have succeeded. The comedy did not fit. This is not a monumental genre transcending film, rather a confused and disturbing one. It's been mentioned by others, but I must say that my true feelings for this film were in fact summed up by the cop who came out of the closet while Rogen was receiving the bad news about his future as a policeman. "I'm sorry. I thought this was going to be funny, but it's just sad."