Shot in the Blart

Metroland | April 22, 2009
The funniest thing about Observe and Report is its timing, which is indeed fortuitous. Released on the heels of the mega-hit Paul Blart: Mall Cop, the film serves to both create and (hopefully) put an end to the shopping-mall vigilante genre; on the surface, it's the dark side to the lighthearted Blart. But writer-director Jody Hill (The Foot Fist Way) must have been counting on fans to show up with a pretty strong contact high after the last big Seth Rogen hit (last summer's stoner bromance Pineapple Express), because the actual laughs in Observe and Report are painfully scarce. It's a black comedy without the comedy.

Ronnie Barnhardt (Rogen) is an uber-serious mall cop who lives with his alcoholic mother (Celia Weston) and harbors a crush on slutty makeup-counter girl Brandi (Anna Faris). When a flasher starts terrorizing shoppers, Ronnie sees his chance to make a name for himself. Never mind that the mall is being robbed blind almost nightly; catching this flasher will be his piece de resistance. (The recurrent use of the Band’s "When I Paint My Masterpiece" to underscore his ambition is one of the film's few smart comic moves.) But when Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) turns up to investigate the criminal activity, Ronnie gets territorial—and downright mean.

That meanness is meant to bring laughs, but in scene after scene we're shown a character who is boorish and immature, not to mention racist (there’s no context given to justify Ronnie calling a character of Middle Eastern descent "Saddam"), aggressive, and ultimately unhinged. The violent outbursts would be an unexpected counterpoint to the rest of the film if only they weren't so easy to see coming; shots of Ronnie chomping Klonopin just go to show that our "hero" has a serious chemical imbalance. The fact that a date-rape scene provides one of the film's only actual punchlines—I'm serious—is a testament to the filmmakers' misguided sense of comedy.

Everyone who comes into contact with Ronnie seems exhausted by him—with the exception, inexplicably, of comely food-court worker Nell (Collette Wolfe)—and surely the audience too will find this to be an exhausting 86 minutes. Observe and Report is a hack job through and through; even the editing is rough. The synopsis is right there in the script: "I thought this was going to be funny, but it's just sad."


Metroland was founded in 1978 as a monthly entertainment guide; a year and a half later it went weekly, continuing to focus primarily on arts, entertainment and lifestyles. In September 1986, Metroland reinvented itself as a full-fledged alternative newsweekly, offering...
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