I love how writer/director Jody Hill thinks. He’s a cinematic devil. And I mean that lovingly. He finds stuff funny that most normal people don’t find funny, and for whatever reason, I continually respond to it. Check out his extremely dark yet incredibly funny debut The Foot Fist Way – there’s stuff in that movie that is painfully hilarious. People have told me how I’m weird and just a tad bizarre with some of my likes and dislikes in the comedy genre. I think this is why I found Hill’s most recent cinematic excursion into comedy’s heart of darkness, 2009’s Observe and Report, to not only be one of the funniest films of the last 15 years, but some sort of strange, transgressive, unhinged masterwork that despite its crude surface exterior, has something perversely subversive to say about the fringes of society in America. And that’s what Hill’s specialty is – the fringe elements – whether it be Danny McBride’s delusional karate instructor in The Foot Fist Way or McBride’s gleefully unaware baseball player in the epic comedy TV series Eastbound and Down. The trailers were misleading for Observe and Report; the studio tried selling a dirty Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Well, the fact that there were two comedies that centered on mall-cops in development at the same time was just a natural-for-Hollywood coincidence, because Observe and Report couldn’t be any more different than Paul Blart. Observe and Report is like some sort of wild mixture of Falling Down, The King of Comedy, Taxi Driver, and Hill’s The Foot Fist Way.
Seth Rogen did a complete about-face in this film, squashing the lovable stoner character we’ve all come to love, and ripping into the role of the morally bankrupt, bi-polar Ronnie Barnhardt, a sociopathic mall security officer who fashions himself as judge, jury, and executioner. Literally. The plot involves a serial-pervert who has taken to flashing the female mall shoppers in the parking lot, opening up his trench coat and wildly exposing himself. Lovely! Ronnie goes head-to-head with a slimy detective played with evil glee by Ray Liotta who is investigating the case and can’t be bothered with Ronnie’s idiocy. Danny McBride pops up in a priceless cameo as a crack dealer. But the best part of Observe and Report may just be the utterly brilliant Anna Faris, playing the object of Ronnie’s affections, the slutty cosmetic-counter girl Brandi, who ends up getting flashed, and mentally scarred for life. Faris, in a performance that is nothing less than a small tour de force, gets some of the film’s best material; her date-night with Ronnie is one of the more questionable things ever to be featured in a film that is asking its audience to laugh. Ronnie uses her fears as a potential way into her heart (oops, I mean pants), all the while trying to put a stop to the flasher’s reign of terror, while also finding time to abuse a multitude of drugs and beat the crap out of skateboarding punks who love to loiter in the parking lot.
Hill is obsessed with the socially awkward and having you look directly into the face of humiliation, the face of dead-beat America, the ethically bankrupt souls of individuals who are completely delusional and who cannot be helped, and then having you laugh at them AND with them, while the characters slip deeper and deeper into their own self-destruction. The finale of Observe and Report stands as one of the craziest endings I’ve seen, bracing in its casual violence, with the power to literally take your breath away; even coming close to spoiling it would be a crime. I almost hesitate to call this film a “comedy” as it’s certainly no feel-good Apatow production. There’s no overt sentimentality, the characters aren’t classically “likable,” and the way that the humor is derived from scenes depicting violence, racism, homophobia, and sexual deviance will test the limits of many viewers. I found it to be the most daring, the most original, and the ballsiest studio comedy since Team America: World Police. We need more movies from Hill as I can think of few other risk takers and envelope pushers quite like him. The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter can’t get here soon enough!