Observe and Report
It's almost as though Seth Rogen has a list of movie genres that he's intent on applying his stamp. Since he first succeeded in nailing the romantic comedy with "Knocked Up" he's just been going down the list, racking up one success after another.
With "Superbad," a film he co-wrote and in which he played a key supporting role, he did the teen sex comedy. Last year he made an important contribution to both the stoner and buddy genres with "Pineapple Express." He also did a Kevin Smith film - practically a subgenre in itself - with the excellent "Zack and Miri Make a Porno."
His newest genre twist is not one to be expected: the 1970s disturbed loner drama. Yes, Rogen might as well be asking "You talkin' to me?" Travis Bickle lives again, though who would have ever thought it would be in the form of a goofy mall security guard in a Rogen comedy?
Whereas any normal person would regard a flasher at a local mall as a serious problem, Ronnie Barnhardt (Rogen,) the head of the mall's security sees an opportunity. The loud, obnoxious, and diagnosed bi-polar Ronnie has long dreamed of becoming a cop. With a sexual predator terrorizing his territory he takes it as an opportunity to begin his own "investigation" and to more heavily arm the oddball guards he supervises. In this pursuit he bumps up against the real cop, Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta,) who has to deal with not just trying to catch the flasher but having to put up with Ronnie's buffoonery.
Ronnie also sees it as an opportunity to defend and impress Brandi (Anna Faris) the bleach-blonde cosmetics salesperson known for her promiscuity, binge drinking, and ditziness. She used to hardly give Ronnie the time of day but after she falls victim to the flasher Ronnie manages to convince her to let him take her out on a date.
She has competition at the mall, though, in the form of Nell (Collette Wolfe,) a friendlier, more good-natured food court worker with a cast on her leg. Ronnie also has other plans. Inspired by his run in with Harrison he finally applies to join the force.
The film's not firing blanks with its laughs. It's packing several intense comic set-pieces sure to please those wanting a bit of Hard-R shock. Numerous clever one-liners and Rogenisms abound as well. The actor's streak of hits remains unbroken.
Like last week's "Adventureland," "Observe and Report" is far from the light laugh-fest many Rogen fans are likely anticipating. Oh sure, the film has plenty of laughs - both more and stronger ones than "Adventureland" - but also like its amusement park cousin it goes quite dark, truly earning its place in another genre: the black comedy.
Ronnie's bipolar condition is a central plot point, and we see how his life careens out of control when he abandons medication and treatment. The film really makes one wonder how many tragedies and broken lives are merely the result of untreated psychological illness. Give someone the right psychiatric drugs and a good counselor and they can be set on the right path. Ronnie's not the only lost soul of the film, though.
His two love interests - Brandi and Nell - are also tragic in different ways. The first has slipped into a life of alcoholism and casual sex - and we see her future in the character of Ronnie's mother. The second is similarly broken by having to deal with the depressing characters surrounding her.
The film continues the recent years' trend of giving hard-R laugh-fests a bit of substance to complement the chuckles. Maybe there will be those who'd rather their mall security guard comedies eschew the hard drugs, self-destruction, and manic depression. Of course "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" is still in theatres... Given the choice I'll stick with Rogen and his newest comedic treasure, "Observe and Report."