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Celebrate the Delusional with Observe and Report

Observe and Report
Written and directed by Jody Hill
Warner Bros., 2009

Jody Hill entered the scene last year with the cult favorite The Foot Fist Way, a movie discovered by the likes of Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, and of course, Judd Apatow.  If a cult favorite could be considered overrated, it would be that one, despite the usual brilliance from Danny McBride as the lead character.  In any case, Hill finds himself with the “cool kids” at this point, and he landed his first big studio gig here, signing up go-to guy Seth Rogen before he even saw a script.

Back then, I noted that Hill’s feature played like a lost Wes Anderson film, and here he continues the effect, but the writing and surprises of Observe and Report are more sharply executed.  Here, the exploration of delusion is an art form, and Hill’s love of Taxi Driver plays throughout, like Travis Bickle entered into a comedy but he’s no less dangerous.

Ronnie Barnhardt (Rogen) is “head of mall security” and his world is about to change when a serial streaker begins to victimize people in the parking lot.  Ever trying to make his job more epic, he warns the hot, vacuous makeup counter girl, Brandi (Anna Faris, who’s always fun) and tries to impress her with his serve-and-protect demeanor.  His crew is also pretty worthless.  Dennis (the scene-stealing Michael Pena) and the twins John and Matt Yuen (played by John and Matt Yuan), and later the fish-restaurant employee Charles (Friday Night Lights‘ Jesse Plemons) are pretty much there just for the paycheck.  When Brandi is actually victimized by the streaker, and the cops (represented by Ray Liotta) are called in on the case, Ronnie finds his station in life threatened, and his delusions of grandeur begin to heighten.  On top of that, there’s also a mall thief making off with merchandise.

His sudden competitiveness leads Barnhardt to want to become a cop, so he finds himself inspired.  However, he’s still pretty much a dumbass, and on the edge of violence.  When he gets a pity date with Brandi, who drinks herself into oblivion and then has sex with him bordering (pretty much crossing) on date rape, he thinks the love that transcends all time has been forged.  With his streaker case, he feels like he’s in direct competition with Detective Harrison (Liotta) and that his “winning” will make him a cop.  He’s got a crazy rivalry with a kiosk worker named Saddamn (the hilarious Aziz Ansari).  He doesn’t even see that the cute coffee shop girl Nell (Collette Wolfe) is the real prize and that she really wants him.  It’s no surprise he’s screwed up, really, considering his dad left him at a young age and his mother (Celia Weston) is a drunk.

Once again, the film is populated with great secondary characters, a trademark of 2009’s fantastic comedy streak.  Every character is welcome when they hit the screen.  But where this movie makes its mark is in the comedy of surprise.  You really won’t see a lot of things coming, and it works to the movie’s advantage.  Barnhardt is Travis Bickle, just a little bit more social and less scary but still a ticking time bomb.  The art of delusion here is as strong as Max Fischer in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, and it can be painful to watch but downright hilarious.  Towards the end, as our hero enters into a life-changing series of events, and the table is set for him to score a victory, he still finds ways to be clueless, even when his head can be held high.  The movie stays consistent with this theme and is fully realized.  It’s a winner.

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