Director Jody Hill begins his mordant comedy Observe and Report by surveying a suburban mall--the glazed shoppers, the indifferent salespeople--to the accompaniment of The Band's cover of Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece": Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble. Ancient footprints are everywhere. From these opening moments, decadence lies heavy in the air, though opinions will vary whether Hill's film is a rebellion against it--a challenge to comic complacency--or merely its latest by-product.
Could it be both? Observe and Report is crass, violent, profane, and transgressive, a film about pathology that frequently seems itself pathological. It is also, more often than not, hilarious. I will not be the first, nor the 31st, to note the resemblances to Taxi Driver. But there may be echoes stronger still of The King of Comedy and the grand delusions of Rupert Pupkin.
Like Pupkin, Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) is a loser who lives with his mother (Celia Weston), dreaming of the big break that will reveal to everyone his thus far well-hidden talents. Unlike Pupkin, Ronnie is a mall security guard, and his big break is the appearance within his jurisdiction of an aggressive flasher who invites female shoppers to "touch Daddy's dick." As Ronnie confesses to his mother one night, "Part of me thinks that this disgusting pervert could be the best thing that ever happened to me." In particular, Ronnie hopes that by solving the case, he will demonstrate his worth to Brandi (Anna Faris), a cosmetic-counter blonde whom the flasher flashed and, Ronnie hyperbolically imagines, will return to stalk and murder. (There is a bit of projection taking place here, at least where the stalking is concerned.)