Do you want to know how Observe and Report opens? It begins with a scene of a flasher going around a mall parking lot, exposing himself to a bunch of females just going about their daily business. Eventually you’ll see the flasher for yourself — in all his glory — but for now, all you need to know is that there’s one man on the case, trying to figure out who is behind these sexual misconducts. This man is named Ronnie (Seth Rogen), and is the head security guard of this mall. He has decided to take it upon himself to bring this flasher to justice.
He also wants to figure out a way to go out with a woman who works at the local cosmetic store, Brandi (Anna Faris). And he also wants to pursue his dream of becoming a police officer, instead of the “rent-a-cop” that he is now. And he has to deal with Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), who acts as his rival for the duration of the film. That’s a lot for one man to deal with, especially given that the film is only 86 minutes long. There isn’t a scene that goes by without something strange or important happening, and the film’s relentless pace does help it somewhat.
I suppose you also can’t call Observe and Report clichéd, as it goes in so many different directions — many times changing from scene to scene or even within a specific scene — that you’re never able to tell where it’s going. The plot as a whole isn’t terribly unique, but since it contains a few unexpected turns and surprises, I found it to be satisfactory. Dark, sure, but only satisfactory, which was unfortunate.
See, Observe and Report happens to be a comedy starring Seth Rogen. Those two things hardly ever work for me, and even though this is a very dark comedy — a film where date rape is a joke is about as dark as you can get — I didn’t laugh a whole lot. The lead is a delusional man suffering from bipolar disorder, the main villain is a dude who walks around flashing women at the local mall, there is a crack-dealing child, a betrayal, an alcoholic, and a whole list of subjects that you don’t typically make fun of — and then the film does.
Unfortunately, most of the jokes are being delivered by Seth Rogen, who is often a terrible actor and isn’t funny; at least, he isn’t in my opinion. I suppose if you’re a fan of Rogen and don’t mind being offended, you’ll enjoy Observe and Report, but for me, there were only a couple of enjoyable scenes. I can’t even remember when, or if, I laughed, and the only thing I can think of was being bored for the majority of its running time. Seth Rogen just irritates me, I guess.
Many of the supposed laughs are of the “I can’t believe they just did that” variety, which grows old once you come to the realization that the filmmakers don’t have any reserves. When there is no subject off-limits, you are no longer shocked when something happens. You expect it, and at that point, if the film doesn’t go as far as you think it will, you wind up disappointed. While I wasn’t exactly disappointed due to lowered expectations going in, the film wasn’t as dark as I was expecting, and I could see others not having their expectations lived up to after all’s said and done.
The one thing I liked was the list of names I recognized from the cast. I like Anna Farris, although she gets to be a generic love interest here. Patton Oswalt is frequently funny, although he gets no jokes here as an abusive manager at the local coffee shop. Danny McBride shows up for a one-scene cameo that’s not funny at all. Aziz Ansari gets a couple of scenes in which he trades obscenities with Rogen. And Michael Peña plays a fellow mall cop in a small, largely unimportant role.
Observe and Report simply wasn’t funny to me. That is all that matters in a comedy. If you like Seth Rogen, or if you like writer/director Jody Hill’s television series Eastbound & Down, then you’ll probably like this. I don’t particularly like either, and as a result, didn’t find this funny. Be aware that it touches on some very dark and morbid subject matter, but doesn’t go as far with it as you might expect and hope. It’s a very brief movie, anyway, so it’s not like you’ll waste a large chunk of time finding out.