I know it may seem sort of strange to get two "mall cop" comedies within two months of each other, but really: Aside from only the most tangential of plot connections, these movies couldn't possibly be more different. Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a flat, generic farce that feels like every studio comedy from the last 15 years. Observe and Report ... is a freaking revelation. Sick, dark, halfway twisted, and drop-dead hilarious, Jody Hill's Observe and Report is a dark comedy full of shocking moments and brave material, plus it's anchored by a lead performance that could change a whole lot of minds regarding Seth Rogen.
Set in a completely familiar shopping mall, Observe and Report is about a maladjusted security guard who finds himself with a new mission in life: Find the pervert who's been flashing women in the mall parking lot, and do it well before the cocky detective (played quite amusingly by Ray Liotta) has a chance to crack the case. Also to contend with: A bubble-headed blondie, as played by the funniest woman since Madeline Kahn (aka Anna Faris), an untrustworthy sidekick (a powerfully funny Michael Pena), and a perpetually inebriated mother who isn't all that good at the "nurturing" thing.
I'd heard Observe and Report once described as a "slightly lighter take on Taxi Driver-ish material," and while I don't really agree with that assessment, it's worth repeating because (and this should be made clear) Observe and Report is not a mainstream movie, a product of assembly-line filmmaking, or a churn-it-out contractual obligation. This is an aggressively unpredictable dark comedy that doles out violence, absurdity, and a strange sense of sincerity at (seemingly) random points -- and virtually all of Jody Hill's darts hit their intended target. As a tale of one schlub's (basic but legitimate) redemption, Observe and Report works more than well enough -- but if you opt to look a little deeper, and you will, you'll notice that Hill, Rogen and company are also mocking the most basic of Hollywood conventions at the same time.
At its best, Observe and Report delivers the basic plot points we completely expect from a movie of this sort, but then the flick spirals out into all sorts of admirably weird and subversive directions. And given that we're inundated with comedies of the same approximate tone and style every two weeks, it's a true pleasure to discover a farce that deals in weirdness, darkness, and downright SHOCK.
Backed by a great bunch of obscure-yet-rockin' Queen tunes, directed with a low-key style and an undeniable confidence in the material, and presented by comedic actors who clearly take their comedy very seriously, Observe and Report is as funny and "quote-worthy" as Rogen's best flicks, but it's also his very best film to date. If you've already dismissed Rogen as a one-note pot-smokin' wise-ass, prepare to have those notions re-conceived because the guy is fan-freakin'-tastic here. Funny, of course, amusingly obtuse and arrogant, sure, but also angry, desperate, scared, proud, and lonely. It's a great performance from an actor who's been consistently GOOD so far, but not like this. Not really.
This bizarre and admirable little comedy also represents a huge step forward for writer / director Jody Hill. Those who saw his The Foot Fist Way will not be surprised to learn that Observe and Report is a very good comedy, but they WILL be impressed with what Hill can accomplish with a half-decent budget and some studio support. And while we're doling out fair praise, a parcel is due to Warner Bros. for allowing Hill and Rogen to make precisely the strange little comedy that they wanted to. Trust me when I say that this is NOT your typical studio comedy.
And that's a wonderful freakin' thing.