Two movies about earth-killing asteroids, then two movies about Truman Capote and now, two movies about chubby mall cops: Sometimes the cup runneth over. Then again, it would be a shame to yoke Seth Rogen’s semidisturbing latest to January’s fat-guy-falls-down laffer Paul Blart: Mall Cop—or even to its obvious influence, The Cable Guy.
Much like Jim Carrey’s bizarre, off-putting 1996 attempt to broaden his range into pitch-black parasite comedy, Observe and Report shows Rogen bidding for an Act Two after lovable screen schlubdom. His buzz-cut Ronnie Barnhardt pops psychotropics discreetly, tooling around a suburban mall filled with caricatures. (Dylan’s keening “When I Paint My Masterpiece” lends a distinct sense of menace.) You want to laugh at the trench-coated flasher whose micro-wee-wee terrorizes alco-happy countergirl Brandi (Faris, excellent as usual), but the movie strikes an apocalyptic tone, in which zero-tolerance righteousness leads to unchecked racism and worse.
Obviously, this is not the stuff of typical Hollywood fare. Such risks should be saluted even when they don’t fully succeed. Writer-director Jody Hill (The Foot Fist Way) has a warlike, combative sense of humor that is hard to embrace; he steers scenes between Ronnie and a chilly investigating detective (Liotta, not this effective since Goodfellas) to a piercing, hypercompetitive edge. But our hero’s doomed courtship of Brandi and, more promisingly, a meek Cinnabon employee are less surely handled. The most telling line of dialogue comes from another cop: “I thought this would be kind of funny, but it’s kind of sad.” True enough, and sad can be made to work—sometimes.—Joshua Rothkopf