The DVD release of Observe and Report marks a unique opportunity — namely, to see one of 2009's strongest, strangest, darkest comedies for what it is, without the distracting roar of the crowd. Admittedly, some of the laughs in Observe and Report won't ring out as loud without the crowd around you — inside that bubble of consensual permission the audience creates where you can howl at the unspeakable and the extreme because everyone else is — but without that background noise of shocked laughter, it's a little easier to hear what Observe and Report actually has to say.
Written and directed by Jody Hill (The Foot Fist Way, Eastbound and Down), Observe and Report stars Seth Rogen as Ronnie Barnhardt, a "head of mall security" somewhere — anywhere, really — in America. Ronnie has a host of problems — overconfidence, under-awareness, bipolar disorder — but when the mall is besieged by theft and a flasher, Ronnie knows that now is, more than ever, the time for the kind of action he's the worst possible candidate to provide. And when Ronnie leaps into action, Observe and Report slips into an entirely different, scary gear; it's ironic that some of the best, roughest action sequences on film this year are, yes, hidden away inside a small-scale comedy about mall security and male insecurity. …
Hill has said that his desire with Observe and Report was to create a comedy version of Taxi Driver, the infamous Robert De Niro/ Martin Scorsese collaboration form the '70s about an seemingly-average guy who becomes an unhinged vigilante. That, on the face of it, sounds like a horrible idea – and what's great about Observe and Report is that it doesn't shy away from the parts of that idea that are horrible. Ronnie is unhinged, violent, and incompetent — in other words, he's what we secretly fear about any authority figure.
And, at the same time, Rogen makes Ronnie likable — or close enough to trick us into liking him, which is often the same thing. Ronnie's loyal to his mom and kind to his friends, even if he's cruel to perpetrators and oblivious to the emotional states of strangers. Rogen's funny — and, since he's been funny in other films from Knocked Up to Funny People, that's no surprise — but he also, more interestingly, gives a real performance. Ronnie's a similar character to Hill's other hotheaded obliviously arrogant 'heroes,' and in Observe and Report Hill takes another look at examining the cracks and snags in the modern myths of male behavior. I feel like Hill's drained that comedic well, and I'll be disappointed if his next project goes over the same ground — and, at the same time, impressed by how much a mere 'comedy director' has to say about the way we live now.
The rental DVD of Observe and Report is a bare-bones affair — with the film in fullscreen and widescreen, plus English, French and Spanish soundtracks — with no extras or bonus features. Observe and Report is also, it should be noted, dark and violent and far over the edge; it gets away with those thing because, ultimately, it's funny, but this is a movie that culminates with Ronnie chasing down a wholly naked man in slow-motion as The Pixie's "Where is My Mind?" plays on the soundtrack right before one of the most shocking moments we've had on-screen all year. If you've got delicate sensibilities, consider yourself forewarned; if you're willing to take a chance on a brutal-yet-brilliant, scary-funny comedy unlike anything you've seen in a long, long time, Observe and Report's dangerous dark laughs may be what you're looking for.