By Roger Moore
All malls may be created equal, with the same array of Gaps, Body Shops and J.C. Penneys from Bangor to Boca. But all mall cop movies aren’t. Seth Rogen’s “Observe and Report” is “Paul Blart: Mall Cop Strikes Back,” a dark comedy with “issues.”
Rogen takes his frustrated “real cop” wannabe into angry, profane and seriously anti-social places that the dimwitted Blart would never go. “Observe and Report” is a funnier movie, but also an unhappier one. The star and members of the team that made “The Foot Fist Way” and “Pineapple Express” find their laughs in flashers (full frontal nudity), firing range fantasies, cocaine, crudity and simple shock value.
This profane, rude, irresponsible, medication-ignoring bipolar buffoon has little grounding in mall reality. Or one would hope. But he’s funny.
Rogen is Ronnie Barnhardt, a rent-a-badge “head of mall security” at Forest Ridge Mall. He’s touchy about labels. He may not get to carry a gun, but call him a “security guard” and deal with his profane wrath.
“We got Tasers. We got Mace. It’s not bad,” he tells his troops, who include Michael Pena (“World Trade Center”), a snicker in his first big comic role.
Whatever his work misgivings, Ronnie’s mall has a flasher, and that gives Ronnie purpose. He must protect the fair Brandi. Anna Faris, a Pamela Anderson with talent, gives this cosmetics-counter bombshell a brazen, tequila shots-pounding verve. She’s shallow but still isn’t falling for Ronnie’s tactless, politically incorrect come-ons. But Nell (Collette Wolfe), the donut-shop girl next door, just might.
The flasher and a burglary bring Ronnie into conflict with a real cop, played by Ray Liotta on a slow burn.
But as similar as the characters and many of the plot points are to “Mall Cop,” writer-director Jody Hill (“The Foot Fist Way”) never shies from taking “Observe” into the dark recesses of Ronnie’s bipolar mind. Ronnie and the boys hit the shooting range with all manner of deadly weapons. Dumping him in the worst neighborhood in town (Danny McBride plays a drug dealer) doesn’t turn out the way you’d expect.
His drunken mom (the great Celia Weston) may fret over his medication when she’s sober enough to remember. Without his meds, Ronnie is even more delusional than usual. And violent.
“I’m a cook, and I’m serving up justice!”
The movie’s sinister streak makes it impossible to cozy up to, and Rogen’s performance — despite a surprising athletic competence (fights, stunts) — is clumsier than usual owing to the actor-playing-poseur nature of the role.
But in its own demented “Pineapple”-“Foot Fist”-four letter word way, “Observe and Report” delivers a cynical, angry and funny take on a life of loud, violent desperation.