Don’t ‘Observe’ new Rogen movie

By David Orlikoff

Often in art, certain ideas and practices become so pervasive that they define the vast majority of production. This is especially true for film, where studios are wary of risking too much money on a new idea and would much rather churn out an action sequel from an established franchise. From a consumer standpoint, it all starts to look like the same old garbage with each piece getting progressively staler. There have been several Judd Apatow-inspired comedies lately, and though Observe and Report, starring Seth Rogen, has many of the trappings of the next such film, it is remarkably unique. There is a difference between being “too cool for school” and not knowing what you are doing.

Observe and Report is writer/director Jody Hill’s second film after The Foot Fist Way in 2006 and, at times, appears amateurish. Unquestioningly, Hill revels in shocking the audience in a few key scenes, but a greater strangeness permeates the screen while eluding any indication of control.

The plot is simply about a man, mall cop Ronnie Barnhart (Seth Rogen), who tries to impress a woman, makeup artist Brandi (Anna Faris). Hill uses this loose, uninspired framework as a placeholder, never really getting into the drama or characters and instead is content with delivering a random assortment of sometimes funny jokes. Ironically, those jokes make more sense in the trailer and are given little-to-no context within the haphazard story.

While investigating a burglary alongside Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), Ronnie listens intently to a Hispanic custodian speaking Spanish before explaining, “He did it,” which is not at all what the man was saying. Funny? Possibly, but the two characters take a time warp to reach the janitorial closet where this out-of-sync scene transpires, leaving the audience with little understanding of the film’s story.

Whether due to cuts for time or mere apathy, characters perform a plethora of actions just for the hell of it. One such character, the dreaded pervert-flasher who periodically visits the mall in nothing but an overcoat, makes a perfect analogy for the film. Observe and Report is an unattractive man running around willy-nilly exposing himself to the audience in short bursts with square-framed glasses and a wide, toothy grin. The only flaw with this analogy is that in the film, a majority of the flasher’s victims respond with absolute horror, which is less often the case for the audience.

The sporadic jokes inspire gregarious laughter in the swathes of moviegoers. This can be credited equally to the psychological state of unrest the movie emits, as well as its merits as humor. So often the audience has no idea what to think, but are left so uncomfortable in their seats that a solid joke becomes a welcome vehicle for release. Each gag is a buoy on an open sea of shame to which the audience clings feverishly, not knowing how long they can fight the tide.

There are four or five truly shocking scenes that make up the best argument to see this film. The story is trite, and most of the traditional jokes are spoiled in the trailer. It’s possible that a truly die-hard fan could appreciate this film as something containing Rogen, but unlike the ambitious action comedy Pineapple Express, Observe and Report retains only a modicum of canonical Apatow humor. The rest is a jerry-rigged platform suspending those five crucial scenes well above the state of normalcy. To the film’s credit, those few scenes almost warrant the entire experience-almost.