Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 51%
Critical Consensus: “Though it has a mean streak, and does not cater to all tastes, ‘Observe and Report’ has gut-busting laughs and a fully committed Seth Rogen in irresistible form.”
“Observe and Report” is an ugly, nasty movie, with a dark streak that would make a newborn baby blush. This is nothing new for writer/director Jody Hill, who thrives with this material. Hill is best known for his work with Danny McBride on their collective breakout “The Foot Fist Way” and especially “Eastbound & Down.”
What separates “Observe” is that there’s a real sense of danger to it. Most of that comes from Seth Rogen’s performance as Ronnie, a mentally unstable and gun-obsessed security guard at a local mall. This is far and away Rogen’s best acting to date. Going beyond his typical profane oaf roles, Rogen taps into something feral. Ronnie can snap at any moment, and one of the movie’s big jokes is that nobody pays attention to this side of Ronnie, even though it’s present from the very beginning. Ronnie watches, with pride, a news interview he does where he goes on a tangent about murdering someone. We see him at a gun range, squeezing off frighteningly accurate rounds and showing off tremendous gun knowledge. He describes in great detail what happens when he doesn’t take his medicine (night terrors, screaming bloody murder, having unaccounted for gaps in his memory). He even tells the police of drug dealers that he’s very possibly killed and nobody bats an eye. Of course, because Ronnie is *just* a mall cop, nobody takes him seriously. It’s highly reflective of a society that routinely dismisses the people it looks down upon, until one day that person does something and everyone is quick to point out warning signs that were obvious from the start. Ronnie is the most dangerous person in the whole movie, yet almost no one every takes him seriously. That is, except for Ronnie himself, and Rogen plays it so straight, so sincere that it’s kind of terrifying. Comparisons to Travis Bickle are easy to make, but they’re also spot-on. A lot of Ronnie’s issues are brought up and dismissed by other characters, often within the same scene. 1
“Observe” is a movie built to make the audience uncomfortable, from the largely acidic and unlikable characters, to its main plot of Ronnie trying to catch a serial wang-flasher. I can remember the awkward laughter of audiences watching the scene in the trailer that shows potential date-rape. That awkward laughter was toned way down when the scene played out in the film, replaced mostly by silence and some relieved chuckles when a passed out girl wakes up mid-coitus long enough to tell Ronnie to keep going.
Let’s not forget Michael Pena, who’s lisping Dennis is one of the best comedic performances of at least the last five years. He’s a character, like Ronnie, that people dismiss, but the two are kindred spirits. Like Ronnie, Dennis’s quirks keep him hidden in plain sight. After doing all manner of drugs and beating up skaters, Dennis reveals his true motives to Ronnie. They’re more or less the same person, but Dennis has the awareness to use it to his advantage while Ronnie stays oblivious to the way people view him.
A movie this dark and bold couldn’t be anything other than divisive. If you’re not with it, the movie is disturbing, angry, and absurd. If you’re with the movie it’s all of those things, in addition to being caustically hilarious and scathing in its portrayal of mental illness and the way people react to it. Most audiences dismissed “Observe and Report” as just an R-rated “Paul Blart,” but like most everyone in “Observe” they’re guilty of looking it down on it. Just like Ronnie, it’s a movie that has a lot more going on than it’s given credit for.
- see: the scene where Ronnie’s mom talks about Ronnie’s issues and casually blames him for his dad’s absence ↩