RIORI Vol 3, Installment 36: Jody Hill’s “Observe And Report” (2009)


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The Players…

Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Ray Liotta and Michael Peña, with Collette Wolfe, John Yuan, Matthew Yuan, Patton Oswalt, Jesse Plemmons and Aziz Ansari.


The Story…

“All the animals come out at night…”

Wait, that’s another story. It’s during the day when the freaks come out to terrorize shoppers at the Forest Ridge Mall. It’s up to bumbling mall cop Ronnie to keep the food court secure and free of vandals, flashers and thieves. He does the best he can, which ain’t too much. His misguided self-importance gets in the way of his duties a lot. That and the belief the hot chick at the make-up counter would ever give him the time of day.

But never mind that. Vandals, flashers and thieves have infiltrated Ronnie’s turf. This means war. And he’s not gonna let any legit cops get in the way of his righting right. By any means possible.

Including Hoverboards. The thieves might’ve gotten away on Hoverboards.


The Rant…

Let’s be perfectly clear on this matter: I’ve never believed in the Oxford comma.

Whew. Glad we got that out of the way. Onwards!

One of my fave films in my all-time, top ten is Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (“You talkin’ to me?”). It’s a classic, even to people who’ve never even seen the dang thing, so saturated it’s become in our collective pop cultural landscape. But to be fair, for those who haven’t seen it (fools), here’s the premise: Travis Bickle is an antisocial, emotionally unstable cabbie who can’t relate with anyone. He gets it into his head that if he can complete a quixotic mission to rid the city of filth, he will become self-actualized. And get the unattainable girl. Something like that. There’s a lot of violence and violence, too. Well worth watching.

Taxi Driver was the ur-antihero movie. What I mean by that is there were plenty of films prior where the “hero” toed a very fine line within their role and how to reach their goals. Most of the time it was an “ends justify the means” kinda outlook. The antihero could be just as dangerous as the villians. Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” in the Dollars trilogy. Charles Bronson in the first Death Wish movie. Hell, even later on with Mad Max: The Road Warrior, it got kinda tricky to root for the home team where there was no place to lay one’s head as home. Please refer to your Metallica fake book for further answers.

In light of my 40 years on this planet, after watching 40,000 plus movies (give or take 39,000) I can’t immediately recall an antihero movie to be silly. So obviously goofy an execution that any audience would be hard-pressed to take the demented, clownish antihero seriously. Sure, there’s always been humor—albeit dark and perhaps unintentional—in these kind of movies. I cite The Road Warrior again: the marauders dressed like rejects from a combo cabaret/Wes Craven/bondage festival ravaging the Aussie Outback? Were they menacing because they were generally scary, or so over the top ludicrous you just had sit back, say, “It is what it is” and go with it? Maybe a bit of both. Still, not overtly silly.

Another good example (by my standards, which are very flexible don’cha know) of humor penetrating and otherwise gritty melodrama? Escape From New York. We know the film’s delivery is pretty honky tonk, which is unintentionally funny, but the only gag meant as a gag was the one-liner, “I thought you were dead.” The rest of the time is Kurt Russell shooting, stabbing and limping his way along the wastes of Manhattan. Not many giggles, few and far between. At least on purpose.

But wait, blogger! You forgot about antiheroes like Han Solo and even Frank Drebin from The Naked Gun series! They weren’t dark and dangerous! You forgot to floss too! Broccoli! Gross! Both that and their movies had plenty of humor! Huh? How’s that, huh? Who’s dead, Kent? Who’s dead?

Calm down. And it’s spinach, you dolts. And like I said unintentional humor. Han and Frank were  scruffy and incompetent, respectively. Not necessarily malicious or menacing like Clint, Max and Snake were. Within that context (and giving the raison d’être for this week’s debacle. Not the movie. Maybe this scribble. Pick and choose) this week’s installment examines an antihero in a lighter take of another antihero movie. Observe And Report is a comedy, never fear, but it’s also—

Wait, wait. Hang on. Y’know what? Let’s save that extended commentary for a little later on, post-apocalyptic Australian bikers at my ass be damned.

Fair dinkum…?


There’s something rotten at the Forest Ridge Mall, and it’s not the moldering crap in the China King’s dumpster. Well, it’s not just that.

Rent-a-cop Ronnie (Rogen) has sworn to protect his mall and its patrons at any cost. He might’ve sworn too much. No vermin is gonna invade his territory of pristine Orange Julius’, Sharper Images and even that annoying Saddamn (Ansari). No vagrants, no delinquents and no thieves allowed.

Oops on the last one.

Someone’s been knocking over store after store under Ronnie’s nose, clearing out thousands of dollars of merch in shoes, jewelry and George Forman grills. This don’t look good for Ronnie’s rep, nor his job security. The general manager figures he better call in the pros; a team of actual cops, headed by the irascible Detective Harrison (Liotta). And Harrison is not gonna let a loser mall cop with delusions of grandeur muck up his investigation. Things don’t look so hot for Ronnie.

But what does look hot to Ronnie? That babe Brandi (Faris) at the makeup counter. Too bad all his meager efforts fail to get her attention. She won’t go on a date with our schlumpy, mildly unhinged Ronnie. He gets it into his head that if can nab the perpetrators himself—maybe even become a cop in his own right—he could score with Brandi. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Oops. What about that perv? Guy’s running around showing more c*ck than a henhouse.

Ronnie’s got a busy week ahead of him…


Here’s the painful truth about this week’s movie. Ready?

Observe And Report is Taxi Driver. For real.

*gasps from the peanut gallery, empty beer cans at the ready*

Hold on there. I am saying Report‘s a comedy. A rather bleak and dark comedy, but a funny film nonetheless. However it is Taxi Driver also. Consider the parallels:

Our hero is unhinged, socially awkward, racist and has delusions of grandeur of cleaning up the creeps that rove into his job. He’s obsessed with both the unattainable girl and stopping the criminals, both may serve a singular need. When all that falls through and he snaps, he ends up rescuing a wayward female and finds a feeling of worth and/or redemption. It’s all rather open-ended, however.

Now. Are we talking about Ronnie Barnhardt or Travis Bickle? Flip a coin.

More parallels in specific: Ronnie and Travis are obsessed with blondes named Brandi and Betsy, respectively who spurn them. Ronnie and Travis pop pills to keep their impulses in check (to no avail). Ronnie comes to the aid of Nell, an sweet-natured, injured girl who’s treated unfairly by her boss. Such is a la Taxi’s pimp Sport taking advantage of his naive charge Iris, played by a very young Jodie Foster  later reduced by Travis (BTW, “Nell” was the name of one of Foster’s movie roles. Just saying). More comparisons can be made.

Report‘s plot is virtually identical to Taxi. They’re two sides of the same coin, to be sure. And, no, Report is neither a rip-off nor outright plagiarism. I didn’t know if director Hill and his crew were paying homage or subconsciously channeling Travis. I’m not sure it was either, but the argument via comparisons can be made in the affirmative. The antihero vibe is there, as this movie is indeed an antihero movie. It’s a black comedy, too, but who says our lead can’t be demented and funny as well?

*”Where’s he going with this? I got a roast in the oven.”*

I’m saying we’re going back to the silly antihero theme, which is few and far between in movie land. Report is both madcap and dark, stupid funny and aggravating, off kilter and subtly disturbing. It’s like watching an ep of The Monkees minus the innocence and music and plus blue language, violence and waaay to many full frontal dick shots. Madcap. Even from the Coen-esque intro we know we’re in for a surreal and crass ride. Again, dick shots. It’s been said what audiences remember most about a film is the opening and the ending. Report‘s got your attention at the outset and sure does set the tone of the film, so be warned. Beyond this point there be dragons. And flashers.

This was the first Rogen vehicle that didn’t fair too well at the box office. The critics were pretty divided, also. Report fell quite comfortably into The Standard’s territory, which is weird. Since his ascent in Hollywood as the reliable buffoon, Rogen’s mostly done no wrong. Until now. Report was his first movie to lose money at the cineplex. Uh-oh. I think I know why. And it wasn’t for too much (wait for it) dicking around, either.

Ronnie is nuts. His is a sad case. It’s cringe-inducing to witness his conduct, his cluelessness, his about to snap. I’m thinking the guy’s core fan base (mostly frat boys I’d wager. Then again I was a frat boy back in the day. We only had Rob Schneider as an option, the poor man’s Sandler. Yes, I did write that) didn’t know what to make of their hero’s…antiheroics. Rogen the endless quip machine as assh*le. As nut job. As disturbing. Not the flavor in Columbus, despite it was some of the best actual acting the man has ever done. We’re supposed to like Ronnie, root for him. It’s not an easy task.

Actual acting. Rogen can’t act. Sorry to pop your bubble. It’s true. Oh sure, he’s funny, a one man Jerry Lewis movie tempered with the charm of the Three Stooges on a blind date with their cousins funny. But he only acts as Rogen, take it or leave it. If he’s not careful, his agent will doom him to being himself up to when the heart attack hits, maybe four more hits into his contract. Seemed to me that Rogen tried to stretch himself here in Report. Perhaps a bit too much for the mainstream media vultures. Um, fans. I meant fans. Smells like his fans didn’t go along for the ride with Ronnie. Not enough Paul Blart, I guess.

Which is too bad (not the missing Blart bit), because Rogen really did apply himself here. There was his usual histrionics, yes, and very much welcome by yours truly. But I also liked the creeping menace Ronnie was dragging behind him, not unlike—you guessed it—our favorite cabbie Travis. A good example of Ronnie blowing his cool in his usual slapdash manner is the scene where he comes to Nell’s “rescue,” which is redolent of the shootout in Taxi. Before Ronnie goes off pop, you can see him mulling over what to do next. It’s acting you seldom see Rogen do, and it was lost on the masses. A shame really.

I didn’t intend for this installment to pick apart Rogen’s performance, but already dropping Taxi Driver a million and a half times here it didn’t feel necessary to go into Report‘s finer details. All I can say about that is the film was good. A bit creaky at times, until you figure out where the whole thing is going, but still funny in the endgame. Also funny if you view the movie’s humor as a thickly disguised veneer covering the fact that our goofy, silly antihero character is crazy and willfully unaware of how dangerous he could be in different circumstances. Like becoming an actual cop. Shiver.

I know. Heavy sh*t for your almost run-of-the-mill Seth Rogen film. He ain’t gonna win any Oscars for his performance, and critical respect is but a parsec away, but it was kinda cool to see the guy act as well as be funny. Such things are possible in our impatient culture of gnat-like attention spans.

Rogen acts. Huh. Go figure.

*splat*

Hey! I just got pig sh*t on my shirt! And it fell from the sky!

Ah well, maybe a real rain will come down and wash the filth—

*incoming beer cans*

Whaddya want me to say?!? “That’ll do pig?”

Barbarians. Where’s my truncheon?


The Verdict:

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. It’s a cleverly disguised black comedy. Most folks didn’t get it. Doubts even here if they ever would. Just never confuse stupid with stupid. And that’s one to grow on.


Stray Observations…

  • Did Rogen actually gain  weight for this role?
  • “You’re just drunk, mom.”
  • “My dick is brown, you dumb motherf*cker!”
  • It sounds as if Morphine did the soundtrack. Amazing since their bass player has been dead for over a decade.
  • “Good luck with the crack.”
  • WE ACCEPT. Get it?
  • I once knew a guy who was so hard up to be a cop. He applied twice to the academy and tanked; lousy on admission, which is code for “unfit.” He also often spoke unfavorably about non-Whites. Wonders abound why he didn’t pass.
  • “I party like this only every four to six hours.”
  • The wifey loved this flick, “every inch of it.” I know this from being awakened by her cackles of joy against my Resperidone induced slumber. That’s how funny it was. Wish I was awake for the third act.
  • “Gotta get back to work.”

Next Installment…

Any responsible radio host must be mindful about what they say on the air. Robin Williams should be exceptionally careful. Who knows what The Night Listener hears when he tunes in to his show?


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