Perhaps best known as "the other 2009 mall cop movie," the Seth Rogen-starring Observe and Report not only trails Paul Blart: Mall Cop in terms of release dates, but laughs as well – and this reviewer didn't find the Kevin James film funny. Where Blart was a good-natured fool, Rogen's Ronnie Barnhardt is a mean-spirited one. Where Blart wanted to actually help people, Barnhardt is interested in no one but himself. Where Blart was sympathetic because one felt he simply didn't – and couldn't – know any better, Barnhardt seems to willingly keep himself in the dark. Consequently, Observe and Report is a glorified look at a person no one should try to emulate.
Written and directed by Jody Hill (Eastbound & Down), the film finds Barnhardt as the head of mall security at the Forest Ridge Mall. Though looked up to by his fellow mall cops, Barnhardt is not only unlikable, but also downright mean – treating everyone and everything in the mall as though it were beneath him. It's not that he aspires to anything better – at least not initially and even then perhaps, not for long – it's just that he has an incredible, and misplaced, sense of self-worth. When a flasher and a robber (separately) attack his mall, Barnhardt is determined to do all in his incredibly limited power to save the place he both loves and despises.
The police, mainly in the form of Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), are on the case, but Barnhardt – who has no training – feels as though he ought to be leading the charge and does so at the expense of the investigations. He even manages to rope his security underlings, who, amazingly, are less intelligent than he is, into feeding any leads they get to him instead of the real cops.
Barnhardt is also presented with two possible love interests in the film – the make-up girl, Brandi (Anna Faris), and the food court girl, Nell (Collette Wolfe). One is loud, obnoxious, and doesn't like Barnhardt, the other is quiet, soft-spoken, and does. Guess who Barnhardt opts to pursue and ends up having a breakdown over?
The biggest problem with the film is not that the jokes fall flat or that the majority of the characters on screen are grotesque and in no way redeemable — that actually seems intentional on the part of Rogen and Hill, that they were in fact trying to make a film about unlikable individuals. No, the biggest problem with the film is that the jokes are mainly based on these unlikable individuals' unlikable actions and that to find the jokes funny one has to sink as low as the characters.
The Blu-ray release of Observe and Report features some good technical work. While it is hard to pick out exactly what is taking place in some of the darker scenes, the amount of detail in the rest of the film is excellent. The colors are sharp and the print – as one would expect from a new film – is free of imperfections. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 channel soundtrack is solid, with gun blasts, dialogue, and music sounding crystal clear. However, the surrounds don't get utilized all that much.
For special features, Observe and Report features not only a picture-in-picture track with Hill, Faris, and Rogen to accompany the film, but a gag reel, deleted/extended scenes, a couple of behind the scenes featurettes, and a fake promotional video for Forest Ridge Mall security. While the featurettes do tend to give the impression that a talented group of people worked on the film, they don't really given an impression of why things went so horribly awry (except partially if Seth Rogen is serious about the lack of effort he puts into preparing). The Blu-ray also comes with a digital copy, although, unbelievably, it's not an iTunes compatible digital copy and won't work on a Mac or any iPod.
It is possible to make a funny movie about unlikable individuals – it's certainly been done before and will be again – Observe and Report though is not that movie. It attempts, in ways that simply do not work, to revel in and make fun of the darkness of its lead character. Rogen, Faris, and Liotta have all done far better, far funnier, movies. This one is best forgotten.