By Scott Weinberg (original publication date: 3/17/09 -- SXSW Film Festival)
I know it may seem sort of strange to get two "mall cop" comedies within two months of each other, but really: Aside from only the most tangential of plot connections, these movies couldn't possibly be more different. Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a flat, generic farce that feels like every studio comedy from the last 15 years. Observe and Report ... is a freaking revelation. Sick, dark, halfway twisted, and drop-dead hilarious, Jody Hill's Observe and Report is a dark comedy full of shocking moments and brave material, plus it's anchored by a lead performance that could change a whole lot of minds regarding Seth Rogen.
Set in a completely familiar shopping mall, Observe and Report is about a maladjusted security guard who finds himself with a new mission in life: Find the pervert who's been flashing women in the mall parking lot, and do it well before the cocky detective (played quite amusingly by Ray Liotta) has a chance to crack the case. Also to contend with: A bubble-headed blondie, as played by the funniest woman since Madeline Kahn (aka Anna Faris), an untrustworthy sidekick (a powerfully funny Michael Pena), and a perpetually inebriated mother who isn't all that good at the "nurturing" thing.
I'd heard Observe and Report once described as a "slightly lighter take on Taxi Driver-ish material," and while I don't really agree with that assessment, it's worth repeating because (and this should be made clear) Observe and Report is not a mainstream movie, a product of assembly-line filmmaking, or a churn-it-out contractual obligation. This is an aggressively unpredictable dark comedy that doles out violence, absurdity, and a strange sense of sincerity at (seemingly) random points -- and virtually all of Jody Hill's darts hit their intended target. As a tale of one schlub's (basic but legitimate) redemption, Observe and Report works more than well enough -- but if you opt to look a little deeper, and you will, you'll notice that Hill, Rogen and company are also mocking the most basic of Hollywood conventions at the same time.