Observe and Report delivers a freshly original comic twist on the superhero genre. Taking place in modern times, Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) as head of Forest Ridge Mall Security attempts to prove to everyone that he has a gift for saving and protecting people. Some of the other recognizable comedic actors in the movie include Michael Peña, Anna Faris, Aziz Ansari, and a quick cameo role by Danny McBride. Although not known for comedy, Ray Liotta portrays Detective Harrison, Ronnie’s arch nemesis.
Ronnie’s world turns upside down when the mall he has sworn to protect starts falling apart with problems. A pervert flashes customers, someone robs the mall at night, but most importantly the mall manager Mark (Dan Bakkendahl) calls the police to solve the crimes. The police presence threatens Ronnie’s ability to guard people from evil. Feeling as if his destiny includes protecting the public, plenty of conflict throughout the film generates when Detective Harrison and Ronnie both attempt to solve the crimes. While working with Detective Harrison, Ronnie realizes that he needs to be a police officer to truly serve the people. While chasing his dreams, he even scores a date with the hottest girl in the mall, Brandy (Anna Faris). Of course things take a terrible turn for the worse, when Ronnie’s erratic behavior and unsettling answers during the psychology exam cause him to fail his admission test into the police academy. Ronnie continues to fall from grace when he allows the theif at the mall to escape, loses Brandy to Harrison, and ends up in jail. Eventually Ronnie redeems himself and proves to everyone that he doesn’t need a superficial hot girlfriend, a badge from the police, or anyone else’s opinion to know that he’s special and can save the day.
I applaud Jody Hill’s ability at writing such an excellent story. The story structure hits every mark. Ronnie deciding to chase his dream of becoming a police officer truly sets the movie in motion at the act break, and takes him out of his comfortable bubble at the mall. Hill takes the audience for a great emotion experience when they’re lead to believe Ronnie will be victorious, then he loses everything, and in the finale Ronnie prevails over all his opposition. We are lead to believe that Ronnie will make it into the police academy and has the hot girl, but instead he finds out that he can’t make it into the academy because of his emotional instability and bipolar disorder; Brandy also proves she used Ronnie and betrays him by sleeping with Detective Harrison. Ronnie bounces back when he tells off Brandy and Detective Harrison, proving to everyone that he doesn’t need what they represent to be happy or to know his calling in life. Besides hitting structure beats, Hill provides a comedy that doesn’t stop story progression for laughs. Every moment in this film moves the story forward and provides conflict, unlike some comedies that may only include scenes just because they are silly. For example the montage of Ronnie hanging out with Dennis doing drugs and causing trouble shows more than just hilarious moments. Ronnie just returned back to a job he thinks he doesn’t enjoy after being rejected from his “dream job”. He takes the easy way out and dabbles in cheap fast fun. When Dennis attempts to include Ronnie in robbing the jewelry store, Ronnie realizes this isn’t him. Ronnie can be brash, mean, and socially awkward; however, the audience learns that deep down Ronnie cares about justice, helping people, and doing the right thing, which makes him a well-crafted empathic hero.
Besides the story structure and conflict driven scenes, the soundtrack plays an excellent role in setting the mood and emotional states of the characters. This film flirts with being a drama considering some of the darker scenes and topics in the film, but the music helps identify the tone for the audience. When Detective Harrison tells Ronnie he won’t make it into the police academy, this scene could be mistaken for a comedic moment. Parts of the conversation are funny, but the score playing in the background before he enters and after he leaves help convey the devastating event for Ronnie. The song “Brain” performed by The Action appears at the midpoint of the movie, when Ronnie takes Brandy home after dinner. The song choice conveys a lot of great information. Both characters’ heads are “hung up in the sky”; Brandy literally because of the booze and drugs, but Ronnie because he feels like a champion. The closing song of the movie, “It’s Late” by Queen, complements the dialogue well. In the finale of the movie Ronnie exclaims he doesn’t need people’s love to feel loved. He exclaims he knows who he is and he’s not going to let his enemies change the fact that he feels good about himself. More importantly Ronnie’s revelation does not come too late, and he renounces his superficial relationships and institutions. The song’s appearance helps drive this point home because Freddy Mercury sings about a similar message.
I highly recommend this movie to people that want to laugh, but also enjoy a story of redemption and growth. I enjoy movies that can combine fall down laughs with serious and dark drama. Don’t go into the movie expecting never ending, rolling, silly jokes. It’s not that type of comedy. I find it as a happy medium between the outrageously silly comedy and the dark comedy. With the attention to detail such as the song choices throughout the film and the story structure, I enjoy this film every time because it’s a well-told, detail-oriented, visual story.