The film has been likened to ‘Taxi Driver’. It’s a reasonable comparison, though ‘King of Comedy’ might be more appropriate. Seth Rogen has never been better, or more unsettling, as mall security head Ronnie Barnhardt, whose increasing moral torpor and self loathing are constantly threatening to blossom into outright psychosis.
It could be argued that ‘Observe and Report’ sets a worrying precedent for mainstream comedy. With scenes of date rape, drug taking and violence against children and police officers, this is grim and often shocking: writer-director Jody Hill sketches characters with insight but without an ounce of sympathy. Taken as comedy the film is effective but uneven, relying on discomfort rather than smart jokes.
But take it seriously, and it pays off. For Hill, the real threat to America isn’t terrorists or politicians, it’s those ordinary jumped-up fascist thugs – cops, managers, security guards – who have just enough power to want more. Bracing, bleak and berserk, this is a film which laughs in the face of American intolerance, and comes up punch-drunk and grinning.