'Observe and Report' better off unobserved

Posted: Friday, April 17, 2009

I know the bait-and-switch tactic isn't technically illegal when it comes to movie trailers, but still... I am a little irked with the folks that put together the preview for "Observe and Report."

It is a great trailer, don't get me wrong. Have you seen it yet? It features star Seth Rogen (playing security guard Ronnie Barnhardt) correcting a news reporter when she doesn't address him as "Chief of Mall Security," chatting with his drunk mother at home in some touching scenes, and marveling at his crush Anna Faris as she downs shots of tequila. His character looks like a loveable guy with perhaps not all that much going for him. Surely I'm not the only one who thought of Kevin James' Paul Blart watching these trailers.

Then there's Ronnie's goofy sidekick, Michael Pena, always wearing shades and looking like he might be high. The preview even shows us two other security guards, squatty Asian twins (Matt and John Yuan), who are very agreeable even when Ronnie tells them one of them might die. Throw in Ray Liotta as the surly detective who can't stand idiotic rent-a-cops and you have comedy gold!

Plus, they're all trying to find a pervert who flashes Faris. Yes sir, the trailer has you believing "Observe and Report" is going to be an awful lot like "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" except with a little more teeth to it, and probably a few more laughs.

The previews were so cleverly crafted, in fact, that I was not at all deterred last week as I drove home from work listening to National Public Radio's film critics rip "Observe and Report" apart.

"Ha!" I thought. "They're just a bunch of curmudgeons."

So I went to see for myself. I only wish I could still change my selection for this column to "Adventureland."

Of course, the previews didn't mislead about everything. Rogen does indeed play a security guard named Ronnie Barnhardt. Ronnie views himself as the protector of the mall, while everyone else sees him as a joke. Ronnie is indeed head-over-heels for the make-up kiosk worker, Brandi (Faris). And yes, Ronnie is for all intents and purposes the head of mall security and his cohorts include a goofy Dennis (Pena) and two identical Asians (Yuan times two). Finally, there is also a flasher who traumatizes Brandi and motivates Ronnie to find and stop him at all costs.

All true.

The problem is that, in stark contrast with how things are presented in the trailer, there are no laughs. There is nobody likeable, let alone loveable in "Observe and Report." Ronnie is not only bi-polar, but downright scary-delusional. He isn't funny; he instead alternates between detestable and pathetic. Brandi is a bimbo, which Faris has mastered, but she lacks the laughter that normally comes with a Faris performance. She's mostly just a slutty biatch. Dennis, who Pena plays with a lisp for some reason, is initially charming in his steadfast devotion to Ronnie. Without spoiling the lame twist involving Dennis, however, I'll just say he too is basically an awful human being. Even freaking Liotta, who is not really asked to be funny, is a mean spirited dude with nothing redeeming at all about him.

What we are left with, then, is a collection of unlikeable characters in a dark comedy that is way heavy on the "dark" and pretty much missing the "comedy." Don't worry, though, the last 20 minutes completely lose touch with any sense of plausibility and writer/director Jody Hill throws in some graphic violence just for fun.

No bait-and-switch here.

• Check out Carson's movie blog at www.juneaublogger.com/movie.

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