GENRE: Dark, arrested-development comedy
THE PITCH: Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen), the gung-ho head of security at a dreary shopping mall, tracks a fugitive flasher as a means to impress Brandi (Anna Faris), a gorgeous airhead at the cosmetics counter. But who will guard the mall from Ronnie when he loses his tenuous grip on reality?
MONEY SHOTS: Ronnie tenderly places a blanket over his drunken mother (Celia Weston) after she passes out on the floor. The surprising outcome when thugs (including Danny McBride) corner Ronnie in a bad neighborhood. A montage of Brandi’s face growing increasingly slack as she does tequila shots. A brawl with police (including Ray Liotta) kinda-sorta resembles the famed hammer fight from Oldboy.
BEST LINE: “How much did they get paid to storm Normandy? How much did King Arthur get paid to kill Merlin?” Ronnie asks his team to get them psyched about catching the “pervert.” Weston shoplifts her every scene with clueless remarks such as “I think the White House could be the next stop!” when Ronnie gets some fleeting good news.
BODY COUNT: No actual bodies, but brace yourself for more brutality than you'll find in the usual Apatow-era guy comedy, including a spattery gunshot, a broken bone jutting from a limb, and Ronnie’s pulped face. Some violence is merely rough slapstick, like when Ronnie and his right-hand man (Michael Peña) wallop skatepunks with their own boards.
FLESH FACTOR: Brandi (and director Jody Hill) isn’t shy about showing cleavage. Ronnie contemplates a Polaroid of the flasher’s junk. A hilarious, full-frontal, slow-motion chase scene takes place at the end.
MP3-TO-BE: The Band’s version of Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” accompanies the opening credits sequence of the mall “waking up.” Another hip oldie bound to see a resurgence is the Yardbirds’ “Over Under Sideways Down.”
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: In an act of cross-promotional restraint, most of the mall’s stores are fake, such as the “Toast a Bun” food court franchise; the film doesn’t show Chick-Fil-A, even though Ronnie’s nemesis, a kiosk vendor called “Saddamn” (Aziz Ansari) rebuffs one accusation by saying, “Why the fuck would I blow up Chick-Fil-A? It’s fuckin’ delicious!” Ronnie does prominently drive a Honda motorcycle, though.
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: After such contemptuous characterizations of shopping security guards as Kevin James in Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Simon Pegg in Run, Fatboy, Run, can anyone name a positive portrayal of a mall rent-a-cop?
THE BOTTOM LINE: You know how Will Ferrell usually plays deluded, flailing man-boys? In Observe and Report, Hill and Rogen take a comparable role and reveal just how dangerously unstable he’d be in real life, spilling a slob comedy into unsettling Martin Scorsese territory. Observe and Report earns a commendation for getting inside the head of its antiheroic lead, although it lets a few too many laughs get off scot-free.