Observe and Report, opening today from director Jody Hill, has been billed as “the Taxi Driver of mall cop movies.” (Whereas Paul Blart Mall Cop was more like the Big Momma’s House of mall cop movies). The question remains: is it any good? Relax, stupid, that’s what I’m gonna tell ya!
It might be an oversimplification to say that if you like Hill’s HBO series Eastbound and Down that you’ll like Observe and Report. The protagonists are similarly messed up and the tone is similar, but Danny McBride is a lot better at playing this kind of outrageous, over-the-top character. He and Will Ferrell might be the only two guys in Hollywood who’ve ever pulled it off. And that’s not a knock on Seth Rogen. In some ways it’s actually to his credit – he’s almost too believable to play a character so inconsistent.
Rogen plays a schlubby Travis Bickle – unstable, self-serious, loves power over others, lives with his mom, and is in love with the slutty pill-head makeup girl played by Anna Faris – a dead ringer for your sister. It’d probably be a waste to give you any more of the plot than that, except to say that the first half hour of this movie is truly atrocious. I like the f-word a lot more than most people, but that doesn’t make Seth Rogen and Aziz Ansari screaming “F*CK YOU!” “NO, F*CK YOU!” at each other for five minutes funny. It’s not. I’d rather get punched in the dick. After the slow start, the humor finally gets its panties off in the scene in which Rogen goes on a date with Faris, who single-handedly rescues the entire first half of the movie.
You’re probably going to hear about this scene a lot, because its coup de foie gras is a date-rape joke. No date rape actually occurs, they just let you think that for a few seconds, and therein lies the humor. But you can bet the no-fun police will be all over their ass for that one, and surprise, they already are. “They’re making it out like date rape is funny!” Wrong, stupid. The humor lies in the idea that date rape is outrageous – i.e., not something you should do. Why is it every time I hear someone say that some things shouldn’t be joked about I want to draw a mustache on their face and hit them in the crotch with a football? Taboos are funny. The more taboo you make it, the more people are going to joke about it. It’s called human nature. Deal with it. But anyway, back to the movie…
Observe and Report is a tough movie to review, because it reminds me of that English-class writing exercise where one person writes the first line of a story, then his partner writes the second, and they keep trading off like that, and what usually happens is you get is two guys trying to constantly one-up each other (“Bill drove to work in his Honda Civic. Which was actually a MONKEY’S COCK!”), which can lead to really funny line-to-line contrasts, but as a whole is usually just an inconsistent pile of crap. Observe and Report isn’t quite a pile of crap, but when it’s not making you piss your pants at the outageousness (which it ocasionally does – Seth Rogen’s psych evaluation scene is incredible, as are the last 10 minutes or so) it’s basically boring you to tears. Not to mention the structure is insanely repetitive, especially for the first 40 minutes or so. It’s basically Sketch with people yelling at each other – Slow-motion montage set to music – Sketch with people yelling at each other – Slow-motion montage set to music…
Seth Rogen has said part of his motivation for doing this movie was “This is so messed up, I can’t believe people are going to let us make this movie,” – and Observe and Report’s strength is definitely its ballsyness. Its willingness to film something because it’s so good but so wrong like a dead baby joke. The world could truly use a lot more of that and a lot less Kevin James making sad faces because he’s fat. Jody Hill and co. have good comedy instincts and are clearly funny, but you just wish they’d try a little harder. The great thing about discovering jokes through improv and filming them later is that you get the really hilarious off-the-cuff breakthroughs and you can still trim out all the lame unfunny parts before anyone sees it. Observe and Report is often pants crappingly, date rapingly funny, but it needed a lot more trimming. Like your grandma’s pubes.