“Observe and Report”
At Quality 16 and Showcase
Warner Bros.

Courtesy of Waner Bros.

3.5 out of 5 stars

“Observe and Report” challenges its audience to laugh at a mall cop with bipolar disorder who brandishes guns, beats the tar out of teens and slaps a Polaroid of a shriveled penis on his forehead in defeat. Understand and accept these outrageous truths, and the film becomes palatable. Find them funny, and “Observe and Report” is actually quite brilliant.

From Jody Hill, the up-and-coming force behind “The Foot Fist Way” and HBO’s underdog series “Eastbound & Down,” comes “Observe and Report,” an original movie about a security guard and his ridiculous road to redemption.

Meet Ronnie Barnhardt (the red-hot Seth Rogen, “Pineapple Express”), Forest Ridge Mall’s “head of security.” Ronnie’s got problems — a lot of problems. The mall’s being terrorized by a returning flasher and a night robber. Ronnie’s freaking out because local police are investigating the matters he thinks he should be dealing with. And meanwhile, Ronnie’s mom is an alcoholic, his dad’s out of the picture, the love of his life won’t reciprocate and Ronnie himself harbors a dream to become an actual cop. Ronnie must cope with all of his stresses and move on with his life. He must win.

Sounds like prototypical “cuh-razy” comedy stuff. But Ronnie’s movie uses its jokes to sting. It’s not easy at first. It’s actually rather unnerving. But “Observe and Report” is quite good at what it does: inciting nervous laughter.

Heroin in the mall bathroom? Gulp. Racial slurs aimed at the mall’s non-white employees? Umm. People getting their arms suddenly, viciously broken as comedy? Only Zack Snyder (“Watchmen”) can do that, and even then only unintentionally. A great primer for this film’s humor is the psychological profiling Ronnie undergoes during his police entrance exams.

He’s asked why he wants to join the force by a police analyst. Ronnie, in so many words, describes how he dreams most nights of a giant, black, cancerous, pus-filled cloud enshrouding the land. And when that cloud arrives, he must do God’s work and lay to waste the people who brought the cloud to him. But Ronnie won’t accept thanks; he thinks of himself as just a “man with a shotgun.”

Whoa. Ha ha?

Now, if that reeks of Travis Bickle or Emily Dickinson, there’s a reason. Besides being a bitter comedy, “Observe and Report” is the latest, greatest work of the “Cinema of Isolation,” or rather films about the fascinatingly disabled.

It’s OK to like Ronnie. He’s not an intentionally warped fella. He’s bipolar and often acceptable to laugh at. Rogen wants that. But he is an angry loner, and Rogen’s surprisingly strong performance makes “Observe and Report” a deep work. “Taxi Driver,” “My Left Foot” and even “The Miracle Worker” would get along nicely with it.

On a final note, there’s been some rumblings about “Observe and Report” being “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.” It’s being brushed off as just another kooky mall caper. Take it from someone who actually saw “Blart:” Paul Blart can suck it.

Ronnie Barnhadt’s our broken man. See him. Watch his movie. Laugh, linger and think about the forgotten folks of the everyday. Mall cops can be hilariously depressing. Just think about that before seeing “Observe and Report.”


Click here for an interview with Seth Rogen, Anna Faris and Jody Hill.

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