This new comedy from writer-director Jody Hill won't be easy to warm up to given its more edgy, dirtier tendencies. It gives warped meaning to the notion of "to serve and protect."
The unconventionally mainstream Observe and Report shot in Albuquerque New Mexico stars a Travis Bickle-esque Seth Rogen (Monsters vs. Aliens), Anna Faris (The House Bunny) and Ray Liotta (The Rat Pack).
The committed Rogen isn't doing the same lovably insouciant fellow that his fans have seen in pics like Knocked Up or Zack and Miri Make a Porno. He is the more unstable, complex Ronnie who becomes like a more vigilante version of Paul Blart, as security supervisor at the Forest Ridge Mall. He reigns over his underlings like a Marine drill officer with less of a dry attitude and more sensitivity to use for personal and professional gain.
The chance to realize his delusions of grandeur comes as a flasher stalks the mall, turning Faris's petulant, bosomy Brandi, a makeup counter girl, into a frazzled state. Ronnie, seeking a coveted spot at the police academy, wants to catch the culprit in front of the real cops like Liotta's cynical and imposing Det. Harrison who perceives him as sloppy rent-a-cop. He'll close the gap with Brandi by making her believe that life is safer being around him.
Rogen is clearly on the same wavelength with the dissonant nature of the film that embraces the conflict of dissimilar elements, especially as Ronnie is dropped off in the kind of area that demands an experienced, hardened public servant.
Hill's wavering script lets the conflict play out with a degree of credibility, even if a more pervading pensiveness sets in once Ronnie's personal duty and crusade becomes less encouraging. It winds up wildly in a chase scene that could easily generate word-of-mouth. Rogen, in his physical look and characterization, is able to stretch a bit as an actor in what is more extreme than his recent success in Pineapple Express.
Underneath an uninhibited Faris and a well-cast Liotta (who makes the most of a well-developed subordinate part), Celia Weston (Junebug) fits in nicely as Ronnie's lush of a mom, whom he still lives with, and Michael Pena (The Lucky Ones) is in fine form as Ronnie's faithful aide. One can report that Observe has some later regrettable belly-laughing instances while capitalizing on some unusual tunes from those of The Band to the Yardbirds. What starts out as cheerfully crass may end up being an unapologetic guilty pleasure that pleasures in its unlikeable characters.