Cuddly comic Seth Rogen goes Dirty Harry in "Observe and Report," a comedy that operates outside the comfort zone.
There won't be a more polarizing comedy released in 2009 than "Observe and Report." This audacious, subversive action comedy turns two of our cuddliest performers, Seth Rogen and Anna Faris, into poster kids for atrocious misbehavior. Writer/director Jody Hill knows that disgusting and hilarious can be two sides of a very thin coin.
Rogen plays Ronnie, a blustery incompetent who is the head of security at Forest Ridge shopping mall. He's a genuinely scary clown, an underdog with a vicious streak and the soul of a vigilante. When a serial flasher starts exposing himself in the parking lot, Ronnie becomes a one-man war on terror.
"Part of me thinks this disgusting pervert is the best thing that ever happened to me," he crows. Ronnie uses the security threat to unleash his inner bad-ass. The heightened threat level provides him an excuse to go Dirty Harry on anyone who annoys him. And it gives him a chance to strut in front of Brandi (Faris), a makeup-counter hottie who seems to have stumbled out of a "Girls Gone Wild" video.
If he catches the exhibitionist, Ronnie figures, he's a shoo-in to land his dream job as a policeman. But when real cop Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) steps into the case, our cocky antihero faces a threat to his jurisdiction, and a rival for Brandi's attention (short as it is).
Rogen and Faris commit fully to their appalling roles. He proves that he can play characters darker and more complicated than his usual lovable klutz, and she is a good sport about looking disturbingly vulgar and trashy. The moment when she upchucks after a "date" of tequila shots and he chivalrously proclaims, "I accept you," sealing the deal with a deep, lingering kiss, is unnerving and uproarious.
The director, whose made his debut last year with the low-budget comedy "The Foot Fist Way," skillfully toys with our instinct to identify with Ronnie while keeping our emotions off balance. Ronnie is initially sympathetic; he's been dealt a bad hand in life. His mom is a lush, he's romantically clueless, and his dream of joining the force seems unattainable. But the terse, macho voiceovers that narrate his daily grind reveal the fury beneath his roly-poly exterior. "In these dark times, the world has no use for another scared man," he declares. He's like the pompous man-child heroles of Will Ferrell movies, but with psychological problems and a gun fetish.
When Harrison drops Ronnie off in a bad part of town to give him a taste of real police work, the comic payoff is all the stronger because it's so unexpectedly brutal. Lily livers and weak stomachs, look out. Those willing to step outside the comfort zone of run-of-the-mill comedy should check it out. "I live by a code of my own invention," Ronnie explains, and so does "Observe and Report."
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186