‘Observe and Report” is an outrageous, in your-face comedy.
It is in debt to a variety of movies, and we may start with “Taxi Driver,” from which Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle is parodied by Seth Rogen, who, in caricature form, once more represents a recognizable American character.
He’s Ronnie Barnhardt, mall cop, living with his hopeless booze hound of a mother, played by Celia Weston. Everything about Ronnie is white trash personified, which leads us to “Kingpin,” another outrageous comedy from which writer-director Jody Hill seems to have borrowed. I also caught whiffs of “Police Academy” when the movie cut loose with its antics.
Despite its wild, eclectic nature, something about the comedy is oddly appealing, if not liberating. Hill does not take a straight line. His is a zigzag approach. Along the way, he takes aim at some sacred cows.
‘Observe and Report’
DIRECTED BY Jody Hill
SCREENPLAY BY Jody Hill
STARRING Seth Rogen, Ray Liotta, Anna Faris, Michael Peña, Celia Weston, Collette Wolfe and Aziz Ansari.
RUNNING TIME 86 minutes
Like his mentor, Judd Apatow, Hill does more than exhibit the derrière of a mall streaker that Ronnie wants to catch. Eventually, we will see “it” all hang out, and I am not talking about one-second glimpses.
Talk about in your face.
Ronnie can be sweet, but he is also redneck bigot, as we witness his crude trash talk aimed at the hotheaded Iraqi mall worker, Sadaam, played by Aziz Ansari. At times we seem to be witnessing an international geek fest with the addition of Asian brothers played by John and Matthew Yuan.
Enter the Keystone Kop, a detective and future rival played by Ray Liotta. At first, he gains the upper hand, only to find himself an object of ridicule as he looks for the hand of Brandi, a vacuous cosmetics clerk played by Anna Faris. Want to see a pretty girl barf?
Then there’s Nell, poor Nell (Collette Wolfe), a coffee counter worker verbally abused by her boss. Will Ronnie ever succumb to her sweetness?
It’s hard not to take a liking to Ronnie, even as we are repelled by his actions, and if we try to dismiss this errant comedy as trash, we may find ourselves in a logical predicament. If it goes berserk with outrageous parodies, some of which we may find repulsive, “Observe and Report” captures a corner of American life. Ronnies of the world exist in spades. They inhabit our space. So do his friends. We must weigh and consider our attitudes toward them. Can we do so without affecting a stance of condescension?
Maybe I am waxing pedantic. Maybe “Observe and Report” is a dumb, stupid movie and that’s the end of it. Each time I click on that option, I think of Ronnie and a lot of other characters like him and his friends. Just can’t get them out of my head.
Reach Gazette Film Critic Dan DiNicola at [email protected]