I don’t normally enjoy American comedies marketed for teenagers, and I enjoy the overweight slug that is Seth Rogen even less. I tend to prefer comedy that has a hint of subtlety, and actors who can do more than swear copiously and act dumb. So it’s no surprise that I disliked Observe and Report just as I disliked Knocked Up, Zack and Miri Make a Porno (seriously, is Hollywood run by testosterone fuelled teenage boys these days?) and every other Seth Rogen film I have had the misfortune of seeing.
Observe and Report however, is more than just a politically incorrect, silly comedy. While Knocked Up was crude and sexist and Zack and Miri make a Porno was little more than an excuse for men to see some porn outside of their bedroom, Observe and Report manages to have something in it to offend everyone. Whether it’s the portrayal of mental illness as something laughable, the idea that date rape is acceptable, or the opinion that mall cops should carry Taser guns to use on anyone who irritates them, this movie has it all. The only question I had upon leaving the cinema was, "What sort of moron thought up this excuse for a movie and who the hell spent millions of dollars making it?"
The film centers around Rogen, who plays bi-polar mall cop Ronnie Barnhardt, desperate to get into the police academy and win the attention of the promiscuous Brandi, who works at the mall's make-up counter (Anna Faris from gems such as Scary Movie and The House Bunny). When a streaker starts flashing innocent mall customers, Ronnie takes it upon himself to catch the flasher at all costs, and will not stop until he has achieved "justice". Eventually he does catch the nudist and shoots him in the chest, resulting in a very graphic, inappropriate scene.
I read that the director of the film, Jody Hill, was inspired by Taxi Driver (1976) when writing this movie and decided to make a comedy inspired by it. I haven’t seen Taxi Driver, so I can’t comment on any similarities and/or differences between it and Observe and Report, but one question I was left asking was, "what message is Hill trying to send?" This movie is marketed for people in their late teens or 20s; a group of people who are, on the whole, highly impressionable. I wonder how smart it is to make a movie that promotes date rape (in a scene where Ronnie finally gets a date with Brandi, she gets drunk and falls unconscious in her own vomit, at which point Ronnie decides to have sex with her), and encourages violence (there is a "montage" scene with Ronnie and a fellow mall cop physically abusing skateboarders in the mall parking lot). Majority of the "jokes" in this movie were tasteless and some scenes looked like they had come out of a How to kill Feminism in Three Easy Steps handbook.
However, what shocked me most about this movie was not the ridiculous plot or obscene content, but the audience’s reaction. I was shocked to find teenage girls laughing at the date rape scene as well as the scene where the flasher gets gunned down. People question why violence is becoming so prolific in society and then go and watch a movie like this for its ‘humour’. Can’t audiences see that movies like Observe and Report encourage violence in all its manifestations? Shouldn’t viewers want to see a comedy that may be filled with silly, crude jokes but still manages to have a positive, feel-good message?
It is beyond me how this movie can appear humourous to anyone and I cannot understand the director’s intention. Whatever it may have been, I hope Hill realizes his tasteless error and chooses to make a movie with a considerably different attitude next time around.