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'Observe and Report' delivers a healthy dose of laughs—and gasps

In Observe and Report, Seth Rogen plays a man so unnervingly insane, it's sometimes hard to figure out whether you should laugh or scream at him. His complete lack of stability gives the film—a hilarious effort from director Jody Hill—that wonderful and somewhat scary vibe that anything can happen. The funny-film rulebook was thrown out the proverbial window for this one.

Rogen is Ronnie, a bipolar mall security guard bent on becoming a police officer who is dangerously in love with perfume-counter girl Brandi (Anna Faris, giving a fearless and funny performance). When a trench-coat-wearing pervert flashes Brandi in the parking lot, Ronnie makes it his mission to protect her—and to take her out to dinner. A real cop (Ray Liotta) shows up to investigate the pervert, and Ronnie immediately dubs the man his mortal enemy.

As for his home life, Ronnie lives with his drunken mother (Celia Weston), who bestows messed-up wisdom between blackout spells. He collects guns in hopes that the law will one day allow him to supplement a work arsenal that already includes taser guns and flashlights wielded like police batons. He's also taking some medication to help with the bipolar thing, but decides that the pills are not necessary. Ronnie is wrong ... very, very wrong.

In Ronnie's mind, his date with Brandi is the greatest night of his life, culminating in a nice, hearty round of lovemaking. To the audience, the finale is pretty close to date rape, although the film cops out a bit. The moment winds up just short of being one of the sickest film-comedy moments of all time. Scratch that: It's still in the top 50.

Ronnie's pursuit of a career with the police is unfortunate and misguided. He aces the physical part of the preliminary training (a very funny sequence) but screws up a bit during the psychological part of the exam. Hint to Ronnie: Don't end your session with a person evaluating your sanity by pantomiming shotgun blasts into her face. They frown upon that.

The supporting cast is top-notch. Michael Peña gets a chance to bring the funny as Ronnie's security-guard wingman, sporting a Jheri curl and an effeminate lisp. Liotta, in his best role in years, gets a chance to rage, Goodfellas-style, after the initial appearance of being calm, cool and collected. As a coffee-counter girl with a debilitating cast, relative newcomer Collette Wolfe is charming and sweet. The moment when she breaks down in front of Ronnie is one of the film's best—a sign that Wolfe should be getting some big roles in the future.

With each film, Rogen gets better. He recently claimed that he doesn't want serious roles, but the role of Ronnie is pretty damned serious. Rogen is quite convincing as a man with tremendous rage problems and delusions of grandeur. Also, a couple of scenes in which Ronnie goes off on attackers show that Rogen might make for a fine superhero when he takes on the role of the Green Hornet next year.

Ronnie comes off as an uncomfortable mixture of two Martin Scorsese film characters, Travis Bickle of Taxi Driver and Rupert Pupkin from The King of Comedy. Both characters (played by the immortal Robert De Niro) had stalking tendencies. While Ronnie possesses Bickle's propensity toward violence, he's also a good-natured, comedic stalker that lives with his momma, like Pupkin.

The film has some gross scenes, but I wouldn't label it as a gross-out comedy. It definitely thrives on the outrageous and bizarre, and inspires as many stunned gasps as laughs. Although Ronnie does merit comparisons to Scorsese characters of the past, he's comfortably off in his own special, deranged category.

Observe and Report
Rated R · 86 minutes · 2009
Official Site: observe-and-report.warnerbros.com
Director: Jody Hill
Producer: Donald De Line, Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Andrew Haas, Marty Ewing and William Fay
Cast: Seth Rogen, Ray Liotta, Michael Peña, Anna Faris, Dan Bakkedahl, Jesse Plemons, John Yuan, Matthew Yuan, Celia Weston, Collette Wolfe, Randy Gambill, Alston Brown, Cody Midthunder, Debra-Jayne Brown, Aziz Ansari and Patton Oswalt

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What others are saying (3)

The Coast Halifax Observe and Report Seth Rogen plays the most racist, unstable mall cop in a 2009 movie so far. by Mark Palermo 04/09/2009
Colorado Springs Independent Mall cop-out At some time in the career of every screen comedian, he has to make peace with The Character. by Scott Renshaw 04/09/2009
Portland Mercury Bad Cop Seth Rogen talks to the Mercury about Observe and Report! EEEEEEEE! by Alison Hallett 04/09/2009

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