The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

‘Observe and Report’ is Hit and Miss Seth Rogen is Still Fat and Sarcastic, Jody Hill Still Likes Penis Jokes

4 min read


No one should ever underestimate the comedic power of male genitalia on the silver screen.
Admit it. You shared Sarah Marshall’s discomfort, albeit with a wide grin on your face, when you watched the introduction to “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”
You were shocked, but shamefully amused, when you witnessed the slightly slanted spectacle near the end of “Sideways.”
And no matter how guilty you may have felt afterwards, you cannot deny that you uncontrollably roared in laughter when you first saw the now infamous wrestling scene in “Borat.”
All of the aforementioned films have one thing in common with Jody Hill’s latest comedy, “Observe and Report,” starring Seth Rogen. They all have some serious cojones, in both senses of the word.  And that’s where the similarities end.
“Observe and Report” is a dark, often sadistic comedy with a lot of crude humor designed to twist your stomach and drop your jaw in disbelief. It’s violent, rude, nasty, raunchy and over-the-top.
Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) is the film’s hero, a mall security guard who can best be described as fascist, racist, mind-numb and static, which makes him very hard to sympathize with. But that is arguably by design. The film doesn’t want you to relate to any of its dysfunctional characters. It wants you to loathe them and consequently, laugh at them.
There’s Brandi (Anna Farris), for example, who works in the mall’s specialty makeup store, and who Ronnie thinks is the “most beautiful girl in the world.” Except she’s not—she’s ugly both in personality and character and no amount of makeup can ever hide that.
Early on she turns hysterical when a mysterious and elusive flasher exposes him to her.
Ronnie assumes the role of a knight in shining armor who vows to catch the “flasher” to protect Brandi, hoping that she’ll fall in love with him as a result. It never crosses his mind that Brandi is too superficial to show any interest or affection for someone as unattractive as him.
But it doesn’t matter because there’s always booze. And intoxication, as we find out, works wonders for their relationship.
The plot, like Brandi, is only skin deep. When Ronnie fails to find the flasher, the mall employs Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) to crack the case. Ronnie acts as if his turf has been encroached and annoys the detective to no end.
Detective Harrison pays Ronnie back by abandoning him in the middle of the dangerous crossroad where Ronnie discovers that he can actually kick gangster ass.  That’s when he realizes that he wants to join the police academy and become a full-fledged cop.
Yeah, I know, I didn’t buy it either.
Now if I’ve given the impression that I found the film unwatchable thus far, allow me to step back. Sure, there may not be a complex story, but that’s not why we watch comedies. We watch them to laugh. And to the film’s credit, there are some genuinely dark and funny scenes.
Ronnie’s mother (Celia Weston) steals a lot of them.  Just when you think that she and Ronnie are going to have a beautiful mother-son moment, she ruins it in tasteful comedic fashion. When Ronnie asks her, “You don’t think dad left because of me?” She pauses for a few seconds, gazing into his hopeful eyes, and while nodding, affirms, “definitely.”
Whether you’ll enjoy the movie or not will ultimately come down to personal taste. Although it wasn’t my cup of tea, I still got my fair share of laughs (and yes, I did feel a bit ashamed of myself afterwards). You just have to accept the film for what it is: a black comedy.
There is no happy ending or moral. A story of friendship does actually develop near the middle of the film, but even that is ruined in the end. Fans of Seth Rogen’s more light-hearted comedies in the vein of “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” may be disappointed. But perhaps we’re not supposed to watch “Observe and Report” the same way we would other films.
Maybe we should treat it like a humorous psychology experiment. Like the title of the film suggests, we should observe the characters and their interactions with one another and report our conclusions about their behaviors.
When we’re finished, we can then analyze ourselves and ask why the entire audience in the theatre lost breath laughing at a naked, overweight male running around a mall?
My conclusion: everything that flops up and down turns funny when played in slow motion, with the natural exception of breasts, of course.