Observe and Report (R)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16,Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
At some time in the career of every screen comedian, there comes a point where he has to make peace with The Character. Adam Sandler is the Man-Child. Vince Vaughn is the Tightly Wound Motor-Mouth. Jack Black is the Wild-Eyed Wannabe Rocker. Dramatic actors may get to be chameleons, but when it comes to our cinematic clowns, we like to know who they are.
Seth Rogen seemed to get this concept early on. From his breakout roles for Judd Apatow in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up to last year's Pineapple Express, Rogen embraced the role of the potty-mouthed but ultimately genial slacker. This was his milieu, and he excelled in it.
So why now do we find him in something so wrong for him?
Rogen's character in Observe and Report is Ronnie Barnhardt, head of security for the Forest Ridge shopping mall. And Ronnie is one weird dude. His interest in Brandi (Anna Faris), the bubble-headed cosmetics counter girl, crosses the line into stalking. His method of investigating crimes — like a spree by a trenchcoat-wearing flasher — tends to completely alienate local police detective Harrison (Ray Liotta). His interviews of potential "suspects" generally take the form of racial profiling. He suffers from delusions of grandeur, despite still living with his alcoholic mom (Celia Weston). This, by the way, is our hero.
He also has dreams of being an actual police officer, and this is where writer/director Jody Hill (The Foot Fist Way) loses any sense of Ronnie's character. When Ronnie goes on a "ride-along" with a pissed-off Harrison, he gets dumped in a horrible part of town and surrounded by crack dealers. So, naturally, Ronnie turns into a baton-wielding badass, dispatching his adversaries with a crunch of teeth and snapping bones.
Observe and Report, rather than attempting to be a coherent movie, simply becomes a collection of whatever notions Hill seems to find funny at the moment. And the fact is, some of Hill's random stuff is funny. A showdown between Ronnie and one of his various ethnic adversaries (Aziz Ansari) becomes the most drawn-out exchange of f-bombs you've ever seen. There's a deliriously overwrought monologue by Ronnie in which he envisions himself a Batman-style vigilante. And simply casting Faris (typically hilarious), Danny McBride (as lead crackhead) and Patton Oswalt (as an obnoxious fast-food manager) guarantees a few chuckles.
But at the center is Rogen, and the center doesn't hold. It would have been pretty difficult for anyone to make sense of his character, and it's probably testimony to Rogen's fundamental likability that the audience is with him even when Ronnie is cold-cocking innocent people.
What the character would have required, though, to have any chance at succeeding is the wild-eyed threat of someone too unstable to be given any kind of authority. Even sporting a buzz-cut, Rogen looks more like the kind of guy you'd like to hang out with on the couch. Jack Black maybe could pull this off. Rogen, not even close.
I'm not convinced audiences would have embraced Observe and Report's brand of anti-social humor in any case, but they'll forgive a lot if they can embrace a star in the kind of part that feels comfortable and familiar. Call it typecasting, call it unfair, but we know who our favorite funny guys really are — even when they don't.