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Movie Review

Observe and Report

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, graphic nudity, drug use, sexual content and violence.

Reviewed by: Ethan Samuel Rodgers

Extremely Offensive
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1 hr. 26 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
April 10, 2009 (wide—2,727 theaters)
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Relevant Issues
Copyright, Warner Bros. Pictures

NUDITY—Why are humans supposed to wear clothes? Answer

How can I deal with temptations? Answer

What are the consequences of sexual immorality? Answer

Every time you buy a movie ticket or rent a video you are casting a vote telling Hollywood “That’s what I want.” Why does Hollywood continue to promote immoral programming? Are YOU part of the problem?

Featuring: Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Michael Peña, Ray Liotta, Dan Bakkedahl, Jesse Plemons, John Yuan, Matt Yuan, Celia Weston, Collette Wolfe, Randy Gambill, Alston Brown, Cody Midthunder, Debra-Jayne Brown, Aziz Ansari, Eddie Rouse, Patton Oswalt, Lauren A. Miller, Rafael Herrera, Ben Best, William Sterchi, Robbie Hill, Marlon Cunningham, Danny McBride, Milos Milicevic, Antonia DeNardo, Danielle Martin, David House, Fran Martone, Gail L. Harrington, Cody Tyler Weselis, Wyatt Tipton, Shane Habberstad, Dylan Hice, Lucy Hill, Parker Ewing, Ivan Kraljevic
Director: Jody Hill
Producer: De Line Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Donald De Line, Marty P. Ewing, William Fay, Andrew Haas, Jon Jashni, Thomas Tull
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

“Right now, the world needs a hero.”

Seth Rogen’s newest comedy installment is about as awkward as an overweight middle-aged man running through a parking lot in a trench coat flashing people at random. And unfortunately for you as an audience, that’s the basis for the plot of the film. If you’re planning on seeing Observe and Report, buckle up, load up, and get ready to be thoroughly offended.

Ronnie Barnhardt is an out of luck mall cop. He’s made fun of by the girl of his dreams that works in cosmetics (Anna Farris), he’s ridiculed by the middle-eastern kiosk salesman (Aziz Ansari) for being fat and useless, he’s battled and told at every turn that he’s a failure and nothing more than a “rent-a-cop” by Police Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) and the only person that does believe in him is his mother (Celia Weston) who is an unemployed alcoholic that Ronnie takes care of. So when a “serial flasher” strikes the mall that he overseas, Ronnie sees his only chance to finally garner the respect he deserves as cop and as a human being.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this film is beyond offensive. I stopped counting curse words 20 minutes into the film and decided that it would suffice to explain to the reader that if curse words were dinner courses, Observe and Report would be a Golden Corral buffet line. Example: in one scene, a kiosk salesman (Aziz Ansari) and Ronnie get into an argument and by the end of it are simply saying “f**k you” back and forth. This goes on for a minute straight—no lie. The sexual content is explicit as well. Two short sex scenes are showed, along with two women topless in a changing room, topped off with a prolonged slow motion chase scene anchored on full frontal male nudity that will disturb even the hardest and unaffected of movie goers. Add in a scene of extreme drug use and the few scenes of violence that include beatings dished out by Rogen with a flash light, a police baton and his bare hands along with a very bloody gun shot scene and you have a film that new from the very origins of its script that it was destined for an R rating.

But there are redeeming qualities to this film (believe it or not). Director Jody Hill describes this work as a “dark-comedy,” so although you might not laugh quite as much, in the end you may leave more fulfilled and satisfied because it is meant to prove a point and be more didactic in nature than a “feel good” comedy.

Ronnie’s ongoing relationship with his mother is truly one of love. His mother is a screw up and, ultimately, a detriment to his life. She has no income and is lewd and makes multiple comments about her sexual promiscuity, but he takes care of her and loves her despite her shortcomings. It reminded me a little of a reverse of the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), where in this story, the son cares for the maternal figure simply because she is his mother, not because he is proud of her or condones what she does.

Rogen also shows a moral conscience in the film. Although he is shown using drugs, he makes decisions in the film that show he truly cares about justice and what’s right, not just the fame of carrying a badge and a gun. He cares for a girl who is mistreated by her boss, censures his best friend for stealing and refuses to give up on the crime around the mall even though his job is really just to be a “rent-a-cop.” Ronnie’s status as a symbol of justice in a place so filled with deceit and evil reminded me of how as Christians we’re tested and tempted everyday by those around us (1 Peter 5:8—Be self-controlled and alert, your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour).

The greatest redeeming quality is that this film is funny: I mean laugh out loud in the theater out of shock and awe funny. And although no movie should be condoned for its crudeness simply because it’s funny, if you can withstand and endure the barrage of language, drugs and male parts, you shouldn’t miss “Observe and Report.”

I think ultimately this comedy works because it’s true to life. The characters are so full of themselves that they truly remind me of how people can be so prideful (Proverbs 16:18—Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall) and caught up in themselves, and Rogen’s quest to take in the serial flasher in the face of adversity is so overblown that it exemplifies the stereotype and view we carry of Mall Security. But, unfortunately, as worth while as the experience is compared to Kevin James’ recent “Paul Blart,” it won’t appeal to a very broad audience, and will leave movie goers like me asking “can’t we make a funny film like this without including all the sex, language and violence?” But I’m sure huge fans of Seth Rogen, and even Rogen himself would say “nope.” {Sigh}

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Extreme / Sex/Nudity: Extreme

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

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Comments below:
Positive—“Observe and Report” picks a very heavy topic. It is about a bipolar man with delusions of grandeur who is also a womanizer who has pride issues and is racist and abuses his authority as a mall security guard. Things sour awfully quickly, as you can guess. Sounds like the basis for the next shameless Oscar-baiting film, right? Wrong. It’s a black comedy and farce made in the indie vein, but securing a mainstream release because Seth Rogen stars.

Let me tell you, you will never seen another mainstream comedy quite like this. It deals with all the topics listed above, and quite honestly, too. Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen’s character) is trying to chase and capture a pervert who’s been harassing mall customers so that he can gain some glory for himself. When a detective comes in and tries to solve things, Ronnie get mad and tries to take control of the entire operation. He also tries to become a real police officer to prove he’s just as capable as the detective. But when you give your bipolar meds to a loose mall employee in an effort to get her pliant enough to sleep with, then go into the psychological exam after 12 meds-free hours, things don’t go too well.

Many of you have read this far and have already decided you don’t want to see this movie. I expected as much. I do not recommend you see it, if that’s the case. If that’s not the case, continue reading.

This movie should be depressing. Just look at all the heavy topics it hits on. I haven’t even mentioned that Ronnie’s mom is an alcohol and that his dad left them when Ronnie was young. Nor have I mentioned that one of the mall employees has a restraining order against Ronnie because of his racist behavior. Or that he and his fellow employee snort coke and take inappropriate photos over the walls of the dressing rooms. Every single character in here is entirely without scruple or morals. This should be a real downer. But it isn’t! It’s actually really funny. You know the phrase “Humor is the best medicine?” Well, it’s true. Medicine is supposed to help us. And humor, like medicine, can help us as well. In this case, it’s not to make us feel better, but to present us a moral story of a man who’s a royal screw-up. while at the same time making it go down easier with humor as opposed to dreary histrionics. We laugh at the absurd. That someone would live the life Ronnie leads is absurd. Were this a drama, we’d probably leave the theater in 30 minutes, depressed and bummed. But, it being a comedy, we see the story through the conclusion.

Have I missed anything? Language: Heavy. Sexual content: Heavy. Nudity: not too frequent, but when it appears it is heavy. Most noticeable is the final scene, in which Ronnie chases the pervert through the mall. The pervert wears nothing but an open trenchcoat. The scene lasts 2 minutes. Violence: Brief, but strong. Drug/alcohol content: Heavy. Thematic material: Very heavy.

I normally say that movies can be used as a way to address delicate topics with your teens. This time, I say to think long and hard before taking your teen into the theater with you. I won’t say don’t do it at all, because that’s insulting their intelligence, but all the same be very wary before you accompany them in. The matter is, this movie might even be too much for some adults to deal with. I’m glad I watched it, but I don’t think the same will hold true for most of you.

P.S. Did I say all the characters in the film were unscrupulous? Scratch that, there’s one good character. And guess what? She’s a Christian. Ronnie makes jokes about her purity ring, but when she’s the only truly good character in the entire movie, I think it’s pretty safe to say that it’s NOT making fun of Christians.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—JM, age 19 (USA)
Neutral—Seth Rogen is RONNIE BARNHARDT. The name is… catchy. Like Ron Burgundy. I knew going into the movie that at times, it’d be disgusting, nay reprehensible in most every possible angle. It’s a SETH ROGEN movie. I needn’t say more.

Having said that, there are a few redeeming qualities. First, the originality. How often do you see irreverency crossed with randomness dot producted with the lewd, then tensored with a smidge of slapstick? In a mall no less. Kinda innovative. Now, that’s not to say Rogen’s latest romp is 100% new. It relies on many conventional plot gimmicks, ya know, the things that make a story click. E.g. introducing a minor, scarcely reoccurring character for the sole sake of wrapping up ALL loose ends at the end (and dishing out ribald humor) is a bit predictable. Still, I think there’s some kernel of freshness to this flick. I’m sure Paul Blart is similar in some respects—zealous mall cops after all—but the disparity in the MPAA ratings makes me think Observe and Report retains some modicum of individuality.

Secondly, the whole facade over Anna Faris is just that. An illusion. What you don’t see in the trailers is relative newcomer Collette Wolfe as Nel. She’s the crippled, honest Christian girl that works at the food court beanery. Cops like coffee and what better way to introduce the Beast’s true Beauty than over Columbian roast? Plot devices at work again…. Nel gives Barnhardt free coffee and endures his soliloquies with the patience of a saint. And though their reason for knowing one another starts off one-sided, the film does well in developing their budding relationship. Nel’s a sweet gal and the predestined complement to this burly bear known as Barnhardt. Big Smooooooth.

Lastly, Ronnie, despite being a pretty worldly guy, is unabashedly all man. He protects the weak and believes in justice. Having grown up with no father figure, he’s actually done well to forge his path. That’s not to say Ronnie’s entirely devoid of reprobate behavior (don’t forget, this film is rated R), but in the grand divide of boy vs. man, he’s a cut above most leading male archetypes. As the trailer says, he’s just “a guy with a gun.”
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Keenum, age 22 (USA)


Comments from non-viewers
Negative—I did not finish this film for two reasons: it was extremely offensive (constant language and sexual jokes), and it wasn’t funny (boring, dead jokes, too much seemingly improvised lines.) Don’t see it, it’s terrible, and it’s just plain dumb. I could go on and on about how dreadfully dead I felt while watching the amount, I did--but I’m afraid if I did, my comment would become just as boring as the film. DON’T SEE THIS MOVIE!!!…
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 1½
—Ben Badger, age 18 (USA)