All malls might be created equal, with the same array of Gaps, Body Shops and JCPenneys from Bangor to Boca. But all mall cop movies aren't. Seth Rogen's Observe and Report is Paul Blart: Mall Cop Strikes Back, a dark comedy with "issues."
Rogen takes his frustrated "real cop" wannabe into angry, profane and seriously anti-social places that the dimwitted Blart would never go. Observe and Report is a funnier movie, but also an unhappier one. The star and members of the team that made The Foot Fist Way and Pineapple Express find their laughs in flashers (full frontal nudity), firing-range fantasies, cocaine, crudity and simple shock value.
This profane, rude, irresponsible, medication-ignoring bipolar buffoon has little grounding in mall reality (or one would hope). But he's funny.
Rogen is Ronnie Barnhardt, a rent-a-badge "head of mall security" at West Ridge Mall. He's touchy about labels. He doesn't get to carry a gun, but call him a "security guard" and deal with his profane wrath.
"We got Tasers. We got Mace. It's not bad," he tells his troops, who include Michael Peña (World Trade Center), a snicker in his first big comic role.
Whatever his work misgivings, Ronnie's mall has a flasher, and that gives Ronnie purpose. He must protect the fair Brandi — played by Anna Faris, a Pamela Anderson with talent who gives this cosmetics-counter bombshell a brazen, tequila shots-pounding verve. She's shallow, but she isn't falling for Ronnie's tactless, politically incorrect come-ons. But Nell (Collette Wolfe), the doughnut-shop girl next door, just might.
The flasher and a burglary bring Ronnie into conflict with a real cop, played by Ray Liotta on a slow burn.
But as similar as the characters and many of the plot points are to Paul Blart: Mall Cop, writer-director Jody Hill (The Foot Fist Way) never shies from taking Observe and Report into the dark recesses of Ronnie's bipolar mind. Ronnie and the boys hit the shooting range with all manner of deadly weapons. Dumping him in the worst neighborhood in town (Danny McBride plays a drug dealer) doesn't turn out the way you'd expect.
His drunken mom (the great Celia Weston) might fret over his medicine when she's sober enough to remember. Without his meds, Ronnie is even more delusional than usual. And violent.
"I'm a cook, and I'm serving up justice!"
The movie's sinister streak makes it impossible to cozy up to, and Rogen's performance — despite a surprising athletic competence (fights, stunts) — is clumsier than usual owing to the actor-playing-poseur nature of the role.
But in its own demented Pineapple-Foot Fist-Four Letter Word Way, Observe and Report delivers a cynical, angry and funny take on a life of loud, violent desperation.