Shopping mall guard Ronnie Barnhardt (Rogen) is a jobsworth extraordinaire, and dangerously so. Not only does he have mental issues, he’s also a gun nut who wants to cop off with Anna Faris’ make-up-counter girl. Now, if only he can catch that pesky flasher stalking the car-lot...
But Paul Blart this ain’t; Observe And Report is no heartwarming tale of a lovable blue-collar schlub, and neither does it see Rogen once again reprise his chubby, witty slacker persona. One scene, which kicks off the predictable kick-the-protagonist-in-the-teeth second act, sums up the tone perfectly. It involves snide copper Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta, wearing too much eye shadow) gleefully imparting the news to Ronnie (Rogen) that he’s failed the psych-evaluation element of his police application. Ronnie is devastated. Then Harrison’s cop buddy emerges from hiding in the stationery cupboard. “Sorry, I thought this was gonna be funny,” he says, “but it’s actually sad.”
Under the fratty exterior flutters a very dark heart and, like Harrison’s wrong-footed buddy, you don’t know whether you should laugh or cringe in discomfort. Ronnie is a disturbed man who suffers from bipolar; he’s more Travis Bickle than Paul Blart (something Hill plays on in a meltdown voiceover at the film’s climax). One scene even has him apparently date-raping a drugged Anna Faris, vomit trailing down the pillow from her slack mouth. Ronnie ceases thrusting, aware that she’s unconscious, a look of consternation flashing over his face. “Who told you to stop, motherfucker?” slurs Faris. Cue very nervous laughter.
It’s hard to grasp exactly what audience Hill is aiming for. You would hope the beer-chugging jocks will clock the film’s uneasy undertow; this isn’t a Will Ferrell shouty idiot or Ben Stiller vain twit — Ronnie is on medication. Which isn’t to say that Hill shouldn’t seek comedy in this (and he often finds it); rather, that Ronnie as a character, and Rogen as an actor, are deserving ofa more complex, poignant story than the loose stringing of shock-gag vignettes and twisted punchlines on offer here.
An odd one. Rogen’s latest clown is an angry, confused man who you never feel entirely comfortable laughing at. There are laughs — you’ll just feel guilty afterwards...
Reviewed by Dan Jolin