Monday, 3 August 2009
Observe and Report
The biggest comedy of the year thus far is likely Todd Phillips' The Hangover, a not-completely-awful Vegas set jaunt in which a gang of man-children engage in a rolling fuck up until audience placation demands an ending. There are no consequences in Hangover. Everyone leaves sin city much as they have arrived, their dunderhead debauchery even leading to a life-affirming windfall in one case. Should you be the kind of psychopath that demands a message from your films, you'll go home with: blackout binges are A-OK! Similarly, if you just like a bit of cause and effect, or even just plain nastiness, you're out of luck. A sequel looms either way. Nearly two months after release, Hangover still haunts multiplexes, reeling in return audiences. Conversely, Jody Hill's Observe and Report lasted about a week before evaporating. Locally, the film ran on one screen in a why-bother time slot. Arriving a couple of weeks after the execrable Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Observe was pilloried as a mean ape, and discarded. It's the lowest grossing vehicle for star Seth Rogen, and it's also fucking great.
Observe begins by essaying your staple underdog nonsense - dead-beat professional with an inflated sense of being rallies against the forces of darkness, in this instance represented by the aggressively vocal flasher plaguing rent-a-cop Ronnie (Seth Rogen)'s mall. The stage is set for portly blundering, perhaps with Ronnie triumphantly winning the day and claiming the heart of cosmetics counter lush Brandi (Anna Faris). The audience gets to cheer on the lovable loser; events moving and shifting on a movie logic that prizes clumsy naivete over real thinking and action. Fade out on everyone smiling. Go home happy. Observe and Report takes this premise and explodes it, attributing recognisable human disquiet behind the clown mask clod. Ronnie doesn't exist in a universe that prizes his intellectual inadequacies. The detective that visits his mall in the wake of the crime spree does not tolerate his contribution. He screams and belittles him. He's not helping. Like Watchmen, Observe examines the kind of man that wants to dedicate himself to creating opportunities for explosive catharsis, your staple movie-magic leading man. This film likewise finds them to be emotionally unstable, racist and lousy with festering Daddy complexes.
Ronnie isn't a well-meaning schlub, he's delusional, aggressive, and medicated into compliance. He dreams of slaughter, desperate to channel his 'heroic' impulses. Ronnie wants power. He wants to organise and police his surroundings. He wants to be lauded, to be superheroic. He craves vitality through action. He wants the girl. He wants a pervasive, voice-of-God monologue. But above all, he wants to carry a gun. He wants to carry an automatic pistol and shoot it at people. This psychosis is always bubbling under (sometimes over) Rogen's husky, half-handsome exterior. The actor is the perfectly likeable camouflage needed for this keen bit of smuggling. Observe and Report also plays with gross-out comedy components that dictate laughs on slight instances of horror. Except this film goes much too far, treating the revulsion as the build rather than the pay off. There are no easy outs. You sit there wondering if you should be laughing at all, and just when you think you have your expected reaction figured, it shifts tone. Always the contrarian, and unlike The Hangover, all about damage and consequences.