But then again, Observe and Report doesn't adhere to many rules at all. In some ways, it's a drama about a grown-up kid finding his way through manhood without a father. Then it's a farcical, slapstick comedy about inept stooges who somehow convinced even more inept powers-that-be to entrust them with authority. There's a sweet, romantic subplot involving a pair of underdogs who seem born for each other. Finally (and most weirdly) it's a vicarious, Chuck Norris-like action vehicle. Any other day and I'd say that there are too many movies cooked up in this mess. But each one has such an entertaining lift, I refuse to be unimpressed.
Rogen plays Ronnie, the head of mall security, tasked with discovering each culprit of a series of menial crimes perpetrated against the mall and its patrons. First, there's the chubby pervert in a trench coat who flashes customers in the parking lot. Then, there's a late-night robbery at a shoe store. Ronnie wants to crack the case, and prove he's worthy to carry more than a flashlight and a taser. He wants what has been denied him his entire life: the badge, the gun, and the girl. So far, so generic. But when a real police detective (Ray Liotta) shows up to investigate the cases, Ronnie's plan is in danger of unraveling.
What we discover soon enough is that Ronnie doesn't really know what he wants. The girl he's after, Brandi (Anna Faris of The House Bunny), is a booze-addled, vapid cosmetics technician who doesn't care if Ronnie is a hero, or just another guy willing to pay for dinner in exchange for a roll in the hay. His career aspirations? The badge he's after mocks him mercilessly. The gun? Well, that's just a real bad idea, too.
Ronnie's too much of a jerk with too many mental disorders to be a model for the typical Rogen cuddly-bear we've come to know. Still, he's not as different from Rogen's other roles as you'd expect: Ronnie's a misfit whose swagger masks a huge inferiority complex. He parents his alcoholic mother (underplayed nicely by Celia Weston) with delicate sensitivity. He spies vulnerability in some of the supporting characters and comes to their defense. Ronnie's mission statement - "right now, the world needs a hero" - is fulfilled nicely, but not in the manner to which he aspires.
All the performances (save for an over-the-top Michael Peña as Ronnie's right-hand security guard) are sturdy and unmoving in the face of the ridiculousness around them. Faris is on familiar ground as the blonde, hilarious dimwit. Liotta's detective is unflinching in his mockery of Ronnie. As for the main character, Rogen is a tad too witty and insightful for me to buy him as a meathead security guard. But maybe that's the point.
Before you see Observe and Report, you might chalk it up to being a simple parody of rent-a-cops all over the country. That's part of it. But I think more was left on the cutting-room floor. Hill seemed afraid to more completely explore the dark places in Ronnie's life that were lit so well by Rogen's performance. Unlike most films, Observe and Report is smarter than it thinks it is. How's that for a twist?
Observe and Report ★★★✩✩
Starring Seth Rogen, Ray Liotta and Anna Faris. Directed by Jody Hill. Rated R.