Cop Out

Smart comedy is at a bare minimum in crude mall caper 'Observe and Report' * (1 STAR)

April 10, 2009|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,michael.sragow@baltsun.com

O bserve and Report is a static one-ring circus revolving around a ringmaster who's also a low clown. Seth Rogen, as mall security chief Ronnie Barnhardt, jiggles his flab, flexes his muscles and practices intimidation as he searches for a serial flasher in a case that he hopes will make his career in law enforcement. This film isn't the most awful comedy of the year (that would be Bride Wars or New in Town), but it may have the grossest antihero.

The writer-director, Jody Hill, may think he's a risk-taking moviemaker, building a farce around an armed security guard with a Messiah complex. But it's no fun waiting for this bomb to explode, and his detonations don't provide enough kick to fuel a modest running time.

Comedies of bad behavior always wring laughs from characters sinking lower than you think they'll go. Sadly, this movie lacks the gutter shapeliness of Bad Santa. As a skewering of macho illusions, Observe and Report fails to fulfill the promise of Hill's intermittently hilarious Foot Fist Way.

The movie never achieves the fun of a carnival midway because it defines everyone by how they rebound off Ronnie's rotund body and thick head. The closest it comes to providing Ronnie with an effective comic counterpoint is his enigmatic right-hand man, Dennis (Michael Pena). In the funniest bits, Ronnie stands mute as Dennis translates his mood shifts to the opaque Yuan twins (John and Matt Yuen), as in "Ronnie is a sensitive man" - an observation that Pena makes funnier with an improbable falsetto and lisp.

Too bad the romantic-nightmare subplots prove to be even more bogus and pathetic than the scenes of Ronnie trying to become a bona fide cop. Anna Faris displays an admirable lack of vanity as the all-too-perfectly named "Brandi." Ronnie's dream girl at the makeup counter, Brandi is a bored, vulgar minx who can stand his company only after ingesting huge amounts of alcohol and drugs. Faris can't employ her usual crack timing in a part that functions as a lobotomy.

Colette Wolf strives gamely to humanize and satirize Nell, the sweet religious gal who rings the register at the Toast-a-Bun joint and makes Ronnie feel like a guardian angel. But she remains an undigested (and, for the audience, indigestible) cliche, especially when she doffs her red-and-white cap and lets her hair down so he can see how cute she is.

Bad Santa showed that even the lowest of low comedies can achieve visual flow and guttural elegance. Observe and Report is like a one-man idiot box with supporting morons. Ignore and reject.

Observe and Report

(Warner Bros.) Starring Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Ray Liotta. Directed by Jody Hill. Rated R for language, nudity, drug use, sexual content and violence. Time 86 minutes.

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