For the opening credits of Observe and Report, we see satirically emo shots of an all-American shopping mall, setting the stage for this scuzzy-fun-sentimental comedy in the microcosm of Mallville. Disarmingly, the music we hear is the classic version of Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” by The Band. As we quickly learn, something’s wrong with the high-low cultural equation between a great Dylan tune, equipped with integrity, and a comedy of lowest common denominators and an inevitable feel-good conclusion-an integrity-free zone. Of course, therein lies the charm and the charge in this genre.
Making Observe and Report work better than it otherwise might, we have Seth Rogen at the wobbly center. What is it about Rogen, this unlikely and loveable chubby hero of the new lowbrow comedy scene? He comes across as crass but winning, an accidentally confident social misfit prone to having sex with sloshed women (in this film, as in Knocked Up). Here, as Ronnie, he is the overly dramatic head of mall security with sundry visions of grandeur-getting the bad guy (a mall flasher), getting a “real” cop job, getting cosmetics counter worker Brandi, the “prettiest girl in the mall, and possibly the world.” Not all of those desires are met, but we know our hero will somehow prevail. It’s written in the comedy code.
On the sidelines, Ronnie’s elbow-bending mother, played with show-stealing ditziness by Celia Weston, is dryly hilarious, and Ray Liotta turns in yet another of his sleazy villainous turns, as a “real” cop with dreams of boffing mall workers in the parking lot.
In fact, the movie subscribes to a growing subgenre: follies in the great American shopping mall. Long after the specifics of the storyline and characters are forgotten, some of the more memorable scenes in this only semi-memorable film use the mall as the main character-including a giddy montage of rent-a-cops in a transgressive spree and a wacky slow-mo, mall-spanning chase with a nearly nude flasher. In these moments, the mall, that symbol of tidiness, populace gathering, and capitalist glee, is turned asunder. Not to worry, though. Such unexpected bursts of integrity don’t spoil the low comic broth/froth.