Observe and Report (Warner Bros., R)

film_observe_sm.jpgThe Foot Fist Way was hysterically funny, and Observe and Report is more so.

 

 

 

 

 

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Early last year I gave Jody Hill’s The Foot Fist Way, an independent movie that I had originally seen at Sundance in January of 2006, a good review; it went on to gross under a quarter of a million dollars, despite getting a fairly wide release. In just under a year since its release, its star, the comic genius Danny McBride, has appeared in widely acclaimed roles in Tropic Thunder (as the explosives expert), Pineapple Express (as the dude who wouldn’t die), and now in the HBO series Eastbound & Down. Foot Fist had its share of fans aside from me, including the likes of Will Ferrell and Patton Oswalt, and it’s a shame that more people didn’t see it, as it could have found a much bigger audience.

That doesn’t matter now, though, as Hill (who has also written and directed many of the episodes of Eastbound & Down so far) has a new film, the Seth Rogen-starring Observe & Report. It feels pretty much like the studio heads at Warner Bros. told Hill that they loved Foot Fist but no one saw it, so maybe change its main character from a karate instructor to a mall cop, and they’d send it back out into the world so that people could find it, especially now that Hill has made a bit of a name for himself. That is to say the plot, the characterization, the structure and the general tone of Observe & Report were in Foot Fist first, but really, that doesn’t matter; Foot Fist was hysterically funny, and Observe & Report is more so.

I’m sure that Observe & Report will cause some confusion for being the second film about a mall cop in four months, especially since mall cops have not exactly been represented as lead characters in films in the past. Anyone who has seen both this and Paul Blart will be able to tell the difference right away, though: Observe & Report is dirty. Really dirty. Paul Blart was rated PG, and Observe & Report is a hard R. That isn’t to say that O&R is excessively violent, and there’s not much sex in it or anything; it’s more that the overall tone of the film is just unwholesome, in kind of that Bad Santa way (which was also about a put-upon employee of a mall, come to think of it).

Rogen plays Ronnie Barnhardt, a borderline delusional, egomaniacal, bipolar loser who takes his job as a mall cop very seriously. It’s fine that he does, until actual trouble—including a serial flasher and a robber—turn up, at which time he becomes obsessed with solving the case(s) himself, and getting all of those worthless policemen (including Ray Liotta) out of his way. In the meantime, he does his best to woo the skanky makeup-counter girl, Brandi (played by national treasure Anna Faris, who is actually in a good movie for once), and keep his alcoholic mom from making too much of a mess of herself.

Hill has a quick and dirty style that suits his chosen subjects very well—Observe & Report was made on a modest $25 million budget, and it shows, but it adds to the film’s charm; it would ring false if the production values were much better. He’s supported by a great cast and crew: I’ve been a fan of Rogen’s from the beginning, but was discouraged last year after Pineapple Express and Zack & Miri Make a Porno; Faris is as good as she always, always is, and McBride and Oswalt turn up in some funny cameo roles. Hill enlisted David Gordon Green’s usual cinematographer Tim Orr to shoot the film, and Orr foregoes his usual soft-focus/natural-light tactics for a crummy, handheld style, to great effect. A Hill find, Collette Wolfe, whose feature film debut was in The Foot Fist Way, has a pretty substantial role as Nell, the girl who has to give Ronnie free coffee every day in the food court, and she nails it as well. Perhaps the greatest find of all, though, is Hill himself. Granted, The Foot Fist Way and Observe & Report have some pretty glaring similarities, but they’re both really good. Here’s looking forward to what project Hill decides to tackle (and talent he discovers) next. | Pete Timmermann

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