As usual, Wistful Writer will not spoil movies he reflects on. There are no major spoilers here, only one very minor one.
“Observe and Report”. As a security professional myself, I immediatelyrecognized the phrase. It is a phrase used to summarize the some of the primary duties of a security officer. It is not the place of a security officer to chase down and apprehend suspects. Neither is it the place of a security officer to enforce the law. Ultimately, a security officer has no right to act in any capacity as a police officer or any other law enforcement officer. He is merely an employee charged with protecting a company’s assets, including both persons and property, holding no special rights other than that of a private citizen.
Head of security Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) is apparently oblivious to the true function of a security officer. Of course I assume just as much, otherwise it just wouldn’t be very funny. In the interest of comedy, I would expect that from Ronnie. Just look at Paul Blart: Mall Cop. However, it seems like this movie was made solely for the purpose of heaping on piles and piles of derision upon the security officer’s already thoroughly ridiculed occupation. Observe and Report doesn’t really do much more than poke fun at “rent-a-cops”, and it’s not even all that funny. Ronnie is insensitive, overzealous, and not very good at making sound judgments. As an anti-hero, you would expect him to have some redeeming qualities. But we barely see anything worth saving: only one scene seems to portray his redemptive quality of being protective towards Nell, the girl who serves him his daily cup of free coffee. Hill doesn’t give us a reason to root for Ronnie. Instead, Ronnie is very much just a prick. Heisportrayed as the epitome of a rent-a-cop: a fanatical security officer with a false sense of empowerment and a foolishly misplaced pride. Is it any surprise that he fails the pre-qualification examination for the police academy? I seriously doubt if anyone expected him to pass. I doubt even more that anyone felt bad for him.
We’ve established that the movie is neither humorous nor dramatic. I suspect that this is because Hill was unable to make up his mind. Instead of diving in headfirst into either genre, he attempts to add more depth to his movie with more serious and dramatic overtones. Near the end of the movie, Ronnie recites a serious monologue in an attempt to build up the drama of a disturbed mind that is highly focused on a single objective. This monologue was probably inspired by Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. The tone, choice of words, and delivery are similar to the overall tone of Taxi Driver. The scene comes complete with a reverse jump cut to repeat a particular line, in what I suppose would be a nod to one of Scorsese’s masterpieces. It’s sort of a cheap way to sidle up to a real legendary film. At least Observe and Report isn’t as long as Taxi Driver.
Finally, because the movie isn’t an effective comedy, I cannot forgive the last twenty or so minutes of the film. The scene where Ronnie’s Travis Bickle-inspired speech segues into his last stand is ridiculous: nobody in their right mind would realistically believe that a police department would send ten police officers to bring out one security officer who doesn’t carry a sidearm. If anything, a tactical unit would be sent to deal with this barricaded suspect. Not only that, Ronnie’s “last stand” didn’t feel all that justified: what did he do wrong to deserve such a large police presence? All he did was do something deserving his termination. Lastly, the way that Ronnie deals with the naked man in the end is absolutely absurd and entirely outside the realm of even the most loosely held of realities.
I may be more biased towards defending the image of security professionals. I am the type to care too much, but by no means am I overzealous. I have a clear and humble idea of what it means to be a security officer. So believe me when I say that I am not being defensive when I say that Observe and Report is not really worth watching. Jody Hill made it clear that he is not a comedic genius. Nor is he a master of crafting dramatic story arcs. If you like the type of humor that requires you to look down your nose at people and let loose a derisive scoff, this movie might have a chance at satisfying you. Otherwise, I’d recommend watching Paul Blart: Mall Cop or Taxi Driver if you don’t want to waste an hour and a half of your life that you’ll never get back.