midway through observe and report, the humor turns unbelievably nasty. this seth rogen comedy about mall cop ronnie barnhardt becomes a haven for the benighted, envious and spiritually small. he goes from being an underdog rent-a-cop wannabe to a vengeful brute, obsessed with capturing a flasher as if going after osama bin laden. this mania focuses ronnie's failures as the son of an alcoholic mother (celia weston), rejected by a local police detective (ray liotta), rebuffed by the mall's slutty perfume salesgirl (anna faris). ronnie vents his annoyance on skateboarders in the mall parking lot, busting heads like a samurai; then he pursues the flasher with crazed single-mindedness (through explicit reference to taxi driver's travis bickle). violence in the unimaginatively titled observe and report is loud and blunt-making it the ugliest, most hate-filled comedy since borat. what happened to writer-director jody hill, whose debut last year, the foot
fist way, was a benevolent, original look at mediocrity? danny mcbride's martial arts instructor boasted his aim "to build a more peaceable world," but his oafishness got in the way. in observe and report, ronnie's arrogance is never chastised; it's validated through a series of vigilante set pieces-including one where he kills danny mcbride in a cameo as a low-life drug dealer. yes, kills. the violence strays way out of proportion to hill's humor about american eccentricity. cartoonish like pineapple express, this crude legacy of animal house's frat-boy humor suggests a townie's revenge-as if hill were sympathizing with the closed-minded frustrations of america's resentful classes. surely the use of bob dylan's high-toned "when i paint my masterpiece" is meant to be ironic. hill's class-consciousness is the antithesis of anvil. ronnie is a renegade: but not in the good way of downscale comic figures such as tyler perry's madea and larry the cable guy. ronnie's credo-"the world has no use for another scared man. right now the world needs a hero"-sounds like vigilante bigotry, a bad santa?influenced view wringing laughs out of ronnie's contempt for a sneaky muslim sales clerk who molests customers: they toss f-bombs at each other in screwy pantomime with a viciously xenophobic payoff. other characters (such as michael peña's criminal dennis) verge on racist caricature. rogen's hurt-child pout and baby-faced, foul-mouthed hostility perfects the lout kevin smith always plays; something's genuine, yet it's a nasty revelation-unlike kevin james' kindhearted clown in paul blart: mall cop. big-budget filmmaking gets hill more mainstream attention than did the foot fist way, but with that budget comes a coarsened viewpoint. a supervisor's alarm is just another vulgarity. is hill a redneck neil labute, developing a new style of misanthropy but with an apatow fixation on adolescent penis jokes? ronnie's heroism comes from apprehending the mall's pervert. but this isn't art; it's just flashing.
observe and report directed by jody hill runtime: 86 min.