Observe and Report: A dark comedy without a spine.
24 April, 2009
Wasn’t there already a mall cop comedy out this year? Yes, but thankfully, Observe and Report is allegedly to be the edgy mall cop film. Writer-director Jody Hill’s inspiration for this project was Martin Scorsese’s brooding psychological thriller, Taxi Driver, in which Robert De Niro makes himself into a vigilante hell-bent on washing down the streets of New York City with blood. The idea of spinning this concept into a comedy starring Seth Rogen is an admirable gamble in these conservative times, cinematically speaking. But does it pay off in the end? This is meant to be a film crafted for people with dark senses of humor. Unfortunately, the film itself isn’t nearly as funny as the screenplay seems to be, mainly because Jody Hill the director doesn’t have the guts of Jody Hill the writer. He introduces one twisted set-piece after another, including a controversial gag involving date rape, but rather than embrace the darkness of his material, he becomes so amused by the surface of his jokes that he winds up presenting them like the goofy fantasies of the main characters in Superbad. Therefore, the darker bits are mixed in with the lighter bits which result in all the wrong notes being hit, which ultimately causes the picture to fall flat on its face.
Part of the reason why Observe and Report never manages to pick itself up again is down to the casting. Seth Rogen has mastered the well-meaning slacker in the past, but as a bipolar mall cop who uses the law to make himself attractive to a soulless skank, he is completely lost. Anna Faris demonstrates once again that she is the most convincing dumb blonde in the country but never once indicates that she is capable of anything else. Liotta phones in his post-GoodFellas tough guy even more than usual, spoiling any and all opportunities for a double act between himself and Rogen. Finally, whenever scenes don’t come together – e.g. most of them – Hill cuts away one of the many annoying supporting characters incapable of anything but pulling funny faces, further destroying what could have been an inspired satire of what our society has become as a result of the introduction of malls.
Worse still, even the writing loses its nerve halfway through when suddenly the script gives into rank sentimentality, laying out its pathetic dénouement in the form of Collette Wolfe, playing the one character who shows any genuine compassion towards Rogen’s mall cop, and happens to be reasonably attractive. Gee, I wonder how this story is going to end? So much for making the comedy version of Taxi Driver, huh? The moral of this tragic story is that if you want to generate laughs from darkness, you need to be willing address the darkness directly. Otherwise, all you’re left with is a poor man’s Paul Blart: Mall Cop, but at least in that case, audiences knew exactly what they were getting into. Observe and Report, on the other hand, is a comedy with ambition but one that chickens out when the push comes to shove. It’s like a major league baseball player on steroids. Remember that awkward taste left in your mouth after the juiced-up Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s home run record? Well, Observe and Report is the Barry Bonds of the current comedy scene, the Revenge of the Nerds revival led by Judd Apatow and his stoner buddies. And who wants that?