Observe and Report
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If you take the song at face value, The Beatles tell us that "happiness is a warm gun." Mall cop Ronnie Barnhardt believes it.
Not that he's allowed to carry one. As a chief security officer for Forest Ridge Mall, the only arms he bears are the two he was born with. And for that we should all be grateful. Frankly, he probably shouldn't even be allowed to carry a taser, or a flashlight, or (most importantly) a badge.
We know Ronnie means well, in a twisted, frightening way. This mall cop believes he's a force for good in a bad, bad world, and he patrols the shopping center as if it were the battlements of Minas Tirith: If evil wanders too close to the food court, he grabs it by its malevolent gullet until it cries for mercy.
Well, that's how Ronnie sees his job, anyway. Most everyone else thinks Ronnie is a big, fat joke. So when a flasher shows up at Forest Ridge, Ronnie believes catching him will earn him the respect he craves, the girl he covets and the tactical weapons he feels like his life depends on. "This is my chance to be great," he says.
Ronnie's security squad can't track down the flasher, though, and mall execs call in the real boys in blue, led by taciturn Detective Harrison. While most security might welcome the police, Ronnie believes it's a flanking maneuver perpetrated by the forces of evil, pushing him into a two-front war: On one side, the flasher. On the other, the city's Finest.
[Note: The following sections include spoilers.]
Ronnie's got two things going for him: his quest for justice and his devotion to his mom. But while Ronnie's moral compass skitters around more than a geiger counter in Chernobyl, his love for Momma is, by far, the most appealing part of his character.
Ronnie's mom drinks more than Metallica used to, so she needs a lot of care. When she passes out and tumbles off her chair, Ronnie covers her with a blanket and kisses her tenderly on the head. "Goodnight, Mom," he says. And when Ronnie spends a night in jail, Mom laments that no one was around to clean her up after she soiled herself.
"Most people would've thrown me away by now," she says. "But not you, Ronnie."
Maybe Ronnie's care is as much enabling as it is loving. Still, he means well, and his mother provides the only real anchor Ronnie has.
Observe and Report is filled with woefully unsympathetic characters. We're supposed to hate nearly everyone in this film at some point—with one exception: Nell, a born again Christian food court worker with a broken leg. She's neither hateful nor insane, and she's the only person in the mall who treats Ronnie like a regular ol' person.
Turns out she has a crush on him. But Nell is also a "born-again virgin" who wears a cross around her neck, a promise ring on her finger and says she won't have sex again until she's married. Ronnie finds the whole promise ring concept pretty weird—but while he makes fun of it, the movie doesn't. And since Observe and Report is little more than 82 minutes of cinematic dysfunction, the fact that Nell is so earnest and positive and, well, Christian, may be its oddest element.
Nell and Ronnie kiss near the end of the flick. Nell does not betray her vow, but Ronnie says that her promise of abstinence is one "I intend on making her break."
Ronnie tells a police psychologist that every night he dreams he's killing legions of evilness and "getting God's work done."
We'd best start with the flasher.
At first, we don't see much of him, so to speak. The camera lurks behind him as he opens his trench coat to passersby—shouting crude, obscene comments as he does. But two-thirds of the way through the movie, a Polaroid picture of the flasher's most private parts is discovered and displayed. And that's only a prelude to long chase scene in which the flasher—trench coat flapping free—runs through the mall, fully exposed.
Brandi, a cosmetics clerk Ronnie's had his eye on for a while, is nearly unconscious—due to pills and booze—when they have sex. She's so incapacitated (wearing only a bra, she lies limp, a trickle of vomit staining the pillow beside her mouth while he moves on top of her), that even her verbal consent doesn't really get around the implications of rape.
Later, Ronnie catches Brandi and Detective Harrison in the backseat of a car, obviously having sex. (We see them from the shoulders up.)
Ronnie's mother flirts with Ronnie's second-in-command, Dennis, and tells him that when Ronnie was in high school, she had sex with all of his friends. She tells Ronnie that she knew she was going to have sex with his father the minute she saw him. Ronnie and Dennis shine laser pointers at women's privates as they stroll through the mall, and they take pictures of bare-breasted women while the women are getting dressed. Detective Harrison and Ronnie drive by scantily clad prostitutes.
We see hand-drawn phalluses. A kiosk vender lewdly flirts with a customer. There are obscene sexual remarks and one threat made.
Violence is essential to Ronnie's ethos—so much so that, when it looks like he might be accepted into the local police academy, his mother gives him a cake shaped like a gun. But when the bipolar mall cop goes off his medicine, he becomes increasingly unstable—and dangerous.
Ronnie's involved in three massive melees that, in a sense, illustrate his descent. In the first, he takes on several drug dealers and ne'er-do-wells after he's abandoned in a rough part of town. (He graphically breaks one of their arms.) Next, he and Dennis rumble with a handful of teens who are skateboarding illegally on mall property. (Ronnie breaks a skateboard over one skater's head.) Finally, completely out of control, Ronnie faces down a squadron of baton-wielding police who, after a sprawling fight across the mall, drag Ronnie down, then kick and beat him.
Interspersed between these bruising battles, Ronnie tasers an irate shopkeeper, threatens the life of Nell's boss (smashing the guy's head into a stainless steel oven a couple of times to reinforce his point), punches a kiosk owner and is knocked senseless by someone wielding a barstool.
Oh, and Ronnie does stop the flasher—by shooting him at nearly point-blank range. A slick of blood smears the mall floor, and the man nearly dies. It's a shocking scene, but apparently a redemptive one in the movie's ethos: Brandi flips her hair and tells Ronnie he did a good job; Ronnie's old boss tosses him the keys to the mall golf cart so Ronnie can drive the flasher to the police department personally; police applaud as Ronnie turns the bleeding perp over.
Crude or Profane Language
Nearly 150 uses of the f-word—shouted, spoken, whispered and gestured. More than 30 s-words. God's name is abused about 10 times, once alongside "d--n." Jesus' name is misused a handful of times, too. Milder profanities are scattered throughout.
Drug and Alcohol Content
When Ronnie decides to quit taking his medication, he gives the pills to Brandi, who accepts them gratefully as recreational drugs. She pops several during dinner—mixing them with daiquiris and tequila shots. She then throws up on her front lawn when Ronnie takes her home. Unfazed, she asks for a breath mint.
When Ronnie's perpetually inebriated mother tries to console him after he loses his security job, Ronnie gently asks her what she's trying to say. "I don't know. I'm drunk," she answers. But during the same conversation, she promises to stop drinking hard liquor and switch to beer, saying she can drink the stuff all day and still be coherent.
Ronnie busts a kid for trying to sell him crack cocaine. Then, shortly after going off his meds, Ronnie and Dennis smoke marijuana, snort cocaine and drink. Dennis injects something—perhaps heroin or morphine—into his arm.
Other Negative Elements
Dennis, as it turns out, has been breaking into the mall and robbing the place blind. Once he's found out, he steals a car and flees to Mexico. We see a mall patron shoplift and some skateboarders graffiti a sign.
When Ronnie asks his mother if he was the reason his father left them, she says, "Definitely."
I'm not a big fan of nervous laughter.
I laughed at far too much growing up, I think, trying to minimize or diffuse the anguish and the pain revealed in the passing thoughts of my peers. "I hate my geometry teacher," someone might say. "I wish she'd curl up and die." Heh-heh-heh. "What a terrible day," someone else might say. "I wish I could die." Heh-heh-heh. Are they joking? Are they serious? What should I do? What should I say?
Observe and Report is a film that absolutely begs for nervous laughter. It's about a man with real mental problems, no friends and a desperately dysfunctional family. And then it asks audiences to laugh.
"I think people are going to come into this thinking, 'Oh, we're getting ready to see this comedy with Seth Rogen,'" director Jody Hill told collider.com, "and then when they leave, hopefully they won't know what to think, because I think it's going to break genre rules throughout."
It breaks more than that. This flick is the most depressing comedy I've seen in a good, long while. Its premise is painful, its characters unlikable and its mood, at times, downright mean.
Really, Rogen's character here and the movie itself are mirror images of each other. Crude, abrasive and unbalanced, Observe and Report eventually cracks and self-destructs, mistaking insanity for comedy, brutality for virtue.
They differ only in this one respect: When Ronnie finally pulls his gun, his aim is dead on. The movie? It misses by a mile.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Seth Rogen as Ronnie Barnhardt; Ray Liotta as Detective Harrison; Michael Peña as Dennis; Anna Faris as Brandi; Celia Weston as Mom; Collette Wolfe as Nell
Jody Hill ( )