The exuberance and unapologetic crudeness of Seth Rogan perfectly captures both the biggest problem and greatest asset for “Observe and Report.” The entire cast follows his lead in being completely willing to throw all inhibitions out the window and immerse themselves into these unattractive people. The failing of “Observe and Report” lies with the screenplay, which presents the actors with unreal people whose hilarity is limited to the brief moments when they conquer our preconceived expectations by involving themselves in surprising incidents.
The film stars Seth Rogan as Ronnie Barnhardt, the head of security at a second rate mall who inexplicably believes it is his destiny to achieve greatness as a law enforcement officer. Ronnie has a strong suspicion that his time to shine has arrived when a man begins to randomly flash various patrons of the mall, including Brandi (Anna Faris), a woman who has been the center of his affections since she began working at a makeup counter. Ronnie is under the impression that he will not only garner massive respect from the law enforcement community if he catches this “pervert,” but will also win the heart of Brandi for putting the man who violated her to justice.
He is under the impression that the presence of the local police threatens the integrity of the investigation, including Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), a man whose coherent and intellectual thoughts are horrifying to the Ronnie’s impotent and instinctual reactions. Ronnie enlists the members of his mall security team to aid him in finding and detaining the “flasher,” including Dennis (Michael Pena), Charles (Jesse Plemons), John Yuen (John Yuen), and Matt Yuen (Matt Yuen), each of whose incompetence exceeds one another. Ronnie lives with his mother (Celia Weston), and finds it unavoidable to deal with her debilitating alcoholism on an everyday basis.
Although this plot description could contain the elements of a successful comedy, “Observe and Report” leaves many opportunities for laughter on the table because of its reliance on unbelievable and uninteresting characters. The film does not believe in the comedy of human nature, but mistakenly thinks that it is funnier to witness people yelling and screaming about a certain situation than to watch their reactions. There is no subtlety in “Observe and Report,” and, in comedy as well as drama, that is the most powerful and effective way to express either an outlandish or realistic idea for a pragmatic exploration. When the most realistic character in “Observe and Report” is the flasher, the film probably fails to connect with issues that can be comprehended by the common man.
Many of these individuals are mean and revolting but not often funny. At one point in “Observe and Report,” when Ronnie has a lengthy cursing match with a Middle Eastern man that is profane, crass, and loud but not particularly humorous. These people are true “Vulgarians” with an acute affinity for the f-word, but without any self-control or perspective on when to seize their unfunny insults.
“Observe and Report” does have inspired and witty moments, especially at the conclusion, and any observer must admire the commitment the entire ensemble has to absolute annihilation of any respectable human interaction. The constant bombardment of profanity in the place of comedy becomes quickly tiresome, without truly imparting any authentic theme or character that can be cherished. Because of this, “Observe and Report” provides no escape from this unfortunate place with these terrible people, forcing the audience to desperately search for an exit strategy with no hope of finding the laughter they were originally seeking.