Observe and Report
Directed By: Jody Hill
Starring: Seth Rogen, Ray Liotta, Michael Peña, Anna Faris, Dan Bakkedahl, Jesse Plemons, John Yuan, Matt Yuan, Celia Weston, Collette Wolfe
|Studio: Warner Bros. |
Film Length: 87 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1/4:3
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Release Date: September 22, 2009
The Film **In Observe and Report, Seth Rogen plays Ronnie, a bipolar Mall Cop with delusional tendencies who lives with his Mother (Weston). Ronnie is the de facto leader of a group of misfit mall security officers including his right hand man Dennis (Peña), new recruit Charles (Plemons) and "expendable" twin brothers Matt and John (the Yuens). He takes his job seriously, receives little interference from his patient beyond-all-reason boss, Mark (Bakkedahl), and insists on being referred to as "Head of Security". When a flasher starts accosting customers outside the mall, Ronnie sees it as an opportunity to shine and impress Brandi (Faris) the vacuous make-up counter girl with whom he is obsessed. Ronnie develops an irrational rivalry with Detective Harrison (Liotta), the actual Policeman who is called to the scene, especially when he pays attention to Brandi. The rivalry becomes less one-sided as Ronnie becomes an increasing annoyance to Harrison, and things only get worse when Ronnie stops taking his meds.
Writer/Director Jody Hill's idea for this film was to take the basic idea of Taxi Driver and twist it into a comedy. It was an interesting idea, but it proves to be an uneasy pairing of creepy and funny. The film even goes "meta" at one point by giving a character a line of dialog that could very well be a criticism of the film itself: "I thought it was going to be funny, but it turned out to just be sad". Rogen's character is more or less a sociopath, and it is actually a credit to him as an actor that he can comically underplay him enough to generate laughs from time to time. Unfortunately, the more the viewer thinks about at what they are laughing, the more likely they are to feel sad, either due to empathy with the hopelessly depressing lives of the film's characters or due to self-loathing for momentarily finding such things funny.
Characters who are not as smart as they think they are are a staple of film comedies, but when the film goes out of its way to establish that such characters are suffering from a mental illness, it sure seems a lot less funny. One much-discussed scene has a character having sex with a barely conscious woman who is severely drugged and inebriated. The filmmakers seem to want the viewer to laugh at how pathetic she is. Personally, I find it pretty much impossible to put a comic spin on date rape, so it definitely did not work for me.
If the film has a saving grace, it is its cast which takes a variety of approaches to playing their broadly drawn one-dimensional largely anti-social characters. While Rogen chooses to selectively underplay his outrageous character, which is probably the only way an audience could manage to make it through an hour and a half in his company, other actors experiment with going over the top. Anna Faris, who earned her PhD in doing anything for a laugh while making the Scary Movie films, throws herself into her vacuous self-centered idiot of a character with reckless abandon. Michael Peña affects an Adam Sandler "mentally deficient guy" voice for his role and manages to steal almost every scene in which he appears with his abstract idiocy. Celia Weston also steals most of her scenes as Ronnie's alcoholic adoring mom. She and Rogen have terrific chemistry and seem like they could play off of each other for hours without breaking character. Collette Wolfe plays a coffee and pastry vendor who is arguably the only decent human being in the film, so naturally she is treated terribly for most of its running time.
Most of the genuinely funny moments in the film seem like they are results of the actors being allowed to improvise in character. The flip side is that some of the most tedious portions of the film seem to be improvisational indulgences. In one such sequence, Rogen's Ronnie and a mall vendor played by Aziz Ansari exchange a seemingly never ending string of "F-yous" to each other. They should have kept the best ten and left it at that.
The film also occasionally stumbles by taking a "more is more" approach in its efforts to be shocking. Enough F-bombs are dropped to make Martin Scorsese blush, and the climax is a veritable festival of male full frontal nudity. Presumably, after the success of Borat, the filmmakers assumed that the moviegoing public's appetite for naked running fat men was insatiable. As a result, the viewer becomes numbed to any scatological shock value that the vulgarity might have had.
The Video ***½The film is presented in both a 2.4:1 16:9 enhanced presentation representative of its original theatrical showings and a 4:3 reformatted presentation which I did not review. Both versions are encoded on the same side of a dual-layered disc. The widescreen presentation begins very problematically with all kinds of video and compression artifacts robbing the image of detail and introducing edge halos and mosquito noise. By the end of the first reel or so, things actually improve for a more stable image with fewer artifacts, although mild ringing along high contrast edges remains pervasive.
The Audio ***½The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is encoded at a 384 kbps bitrate. The modest bitrate does not overly-hinder the fidelity, as the surround channels are only used sparingly with the majority of the mix (and the bits dedicated to it) being employed to the front three channels. Dynamic range is reasonable with rare occasions of extra oomph generated by the .1 LFE track. Overall, the mix is a bit bland but typical for dialog heavy comedies. French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs are also available.
The Extras ½Continuing a distrurbing trend in recent Warner new release theatrical titles, there are no extras on this disc. When the disc is first spun-up, the viewer is greeted with a series of promos presented in 4:3 video, letterboxed when appropriate, with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio unless otherwise indicated below:
- Warner Blu-Ray Promo (16:9 enhanced -1:43)
- Terminator Salvation BD and DVD trailer (2:24)
- Trick 'r' Treat BD and DVD Trailer (2:32)
- The Hangover Theatrical Trailer(1:06)
- Superman/Batman: Public Enemies DTV Trailer(1:04)
- Orphan Theatrical Trailer (2:31)
PackagingThe DVD comes packaged in an Amaray-sized "Ecobox" with holes in the hard case to reduce plastic use. There are no interior inserts.
Summary **Observe and Report is a black comedy that never quite strikes the right balance between creepy and funny despite fitfully amusing contributions from its cast. It is presented on DVD with mediocre, somewhat bit-starved video, serviceable 5.1 audio, and no extras.