Saturday, April 11, 2009
REVIEW: Observe and Report...
Some film makers can make or break a project. No matter what the story may be about, the cast that may be assembled, or how the first trailers look (I'm talking to you, Ang Lee, and your mediocre Taking Woodstock trailer), I will be excited for that directors project. One of those up and coming directors that may fall in that category is Jody Hill, whose first feature, The Foot Fist Way, was easily one of the 5 best comedies of last year. However, his newest film, Observe and Report, stars Seth Rogen, of who I'm not the biggest fan, so my thoughts were mixed going in. That said, after sitting through this short little flick, both Hill and Rogen are now up in that must see pantheon.
Observe and Report tells the story of bi-polar mall security guard Ronnie Barnhardt. When a flasher turns up, Ronnie is called into action to stop him from turning this mall into his own peep show. However, when the culprit gets the best of him, police detective Harrison is called in to close the case. The two struggle for power, control, and the affection of a sexed up perfume saleswoman, Brandi, played by Anna Farris, as Ronnie attempts to follow his dreams of getting with her, becoming a true cop, and bringing the flasher to justice.
I've never been a big fan of Seth Rogen. whether it be the good but flawed Knocked Up, the also good but flawed Pineapple Express, there is something about his performances that always leave me wanting more from them. However, he is beyond stellar in this film. He plays the bi-polar Ronnie, with big dreams, and a penchant for fowl language and guns, and does a brilliant job. Honestly, this is a performance that has never been done by him before, as it's almost a mix of his character in Pineapple Express, and Travis Bickle. He's a sociopath, and throughout the film, it stands on the thin wire between mean spirited drama and dark comedy, and so does this performance. You will see him discuss his sociopath fantasies to a shrink, and then five minutes later, you will see him in a sweet discussion with a coffee barista. It's a weirdly toned performance, but it hits on every turn.
The film itself is also weirdly toned. In the opening few scenes, you get thrust in to this hyper reality of mall security guards with illusions of grandeur, who go around the mall snorting coke, shooting up heroine, and physically assaulting teen skateboarders. Yet it doesn't come off as mean spirited, in a way that a film like Last House On The Left does. Last House was directed and shot in a way that it felt as though it really kind of hated its audience, in that it just showed you everything, without remorse. However, in O and R, you get these really dark scenes of things like drug use, physical abuse, and maybe even a controversial sex scene, yet paired with Ronnie taking care of his drunken mother or the copious amounts of hilarious lines. This film is dark as night, but not in a mean way. It simply sticks itself in the realm of dark hyper-reality, and doesn't apologize for it, and should be comended for that. I know I loved every damn second of it.
That all said, Seth Rogen got a lot of help from the supporting cast. Anna Farris plays the sexed up Brandi, and is pitch perfect. She plays the dumb blonde role so well, and it also helps that she's not to hard on the eyes. However, she's not nearly as good as Danny McBride, even though she has 300 times the amount of scenes as he. McBride gets one scene, in which he tries to save his son from being arrested for coke dealing, and steals the show. I'm not going to say anything more, but you will know exactly what I mean when you check this film out. Ray Liotta is fine, not great, but fun, and Michael Pena may have the best role in the film, as the drugged up right hand man to Ronnie, Dennis. As I said above, the tone of this film teeters on the edge of what is funny, and these performances are the ropes pulling it off the cliff.
However, all of these performances get a boost from Jody Hill's direction. His camera work brings a lot to this film. Most comedies simply try to go about using a point and shoot technique, but this attempts to do a little more. While it's not a visually arresting film, it does have it's moments, particularly when there is action, especially the final action scene. The film is violent, and it doesn't steer away from the violence. Also, the use of music in this film is brilliant. The characters are so disturbed, that combined with the coolness of the music, it's comparable to films by Quentin Tarantino. There is one scene in particular that is almost an exact replica to the title scene from Reservoir Dogs. That's the style of film this is. Set Taxi Driver or Res Dogs in a mall, and you have something resembling O and R, and it works for all 86 minutes.
The last thing I will really get into about this film, is the style of comedy that it uses. This is a perfect example of what to do right in a comedy. The jokes are all plot and character based, in that these characters don't have silly little quirks, in that they don't have a penchant for drawing male reproductive organs or stutter when put in social places (yeah, I'm calling out you Superbad and I Love You, Man!). The jokes, while not light and airy, seem to come off organically, and compared with the superb acting and directing, you can't go wrong with Observe and Report.
Sure, not all the jokes hit, but please, do yourself a favor, and see Observe and Report!
OBSERVE AND REPORT - 8.5/10
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