There's a flasher stalking the periphery of the Forest Ridge Mall—a trenchcoat-clad perv who accosts women and shouts things like, "See my dick?! Touch it, slut!" While this may strike certain audience members (and, um, certain Mercury writers) as pretty hilarious, Observe and Report's Ronnie Barnhardt does not see the humor.
Ronnie (Seth Rogen) is the head of mall security at Forest Ridge, and he's determined to catch the flasher, much to the chagrin of a local police officer who's also working the case (Ray Liotta, more plastic-faced than ever).
All of this turf is familiar, and in your average mall-cop comedy, this scenario would resolve itself with Ronnie outsmarting the cop, solving the crime, and getting the girl (oh yeah, there's a girl, played by the scene-stealingly great Anna Faris). But to watch Observe and Report is to feel all of that familiar comedic ground crumble: In scene after scene, clichéd comedic setups dissolve into bizarre, uncomfortable situations that are made even more disturbing by the innocuousness of their premise—it's like if Travis Bickle walked into Macy's, slipped on a banana peel, landed on a whoopee cushion, got hit in the face with a pie, and then date raped the girl at the cosmetics counter.
The fact that Observe and Report is relentlessly funny, and not simply grotesquely offensive, is a testament to the comedic talents onboard—director Jody Hill reprises the deadpan, detail-oriented tone he created in The Foot Fist Way, while supporting actors like Patton Oswalt and Human Giant's Aziz Ansari staff the mall's stores. It's Rogen, though, who injects the film with its improbable levity. By all rights, Ronnie is a dimwitted, gun-obsessed, casually racist character who should be completely repellent—yet he is, at times, oddly charming, even when he's shooting smack in one of the mall's bathroom stalls.
"I don't put myself through any kind of deep, tumultuous process," Rogen said in a phone interview, when asked how he approached a character who, on paper, is so unlikeable. "I really think, 'If I was watching this movie, what would I want to see? What would make me laugh?'"
And while Rogen might be the kind of guy who finds it hilarious to see teenage skateboarders get violently assaulted by golf cart-driving mall cops (and, um, certain Mercury writers might find that pretty funny, too), it's surprising a movie this dark and weird was even made, much less released and marketed as a mainstream comedy.
"Logic would dictate that [the studio] would have an issue with like, the date rape thing," Rogen admits. "But honestly, those scenes get such good reactions from the audience that, to the studio, that's not a fear, y'know? To them, a theater full of people going ballistic is like a giant fucking dollar sign. They don't care if it's the most despicable thing in the world that elicits that reaction—they would never consider taking out one of those things, 'cause they know that that's the shit that will make people say, 'You've gotta see this movie!' Honestly, the whole general tone of it is what I'm shocked we got away with. And the heroin."