Head of security at this quiet New Mexico shopping mall Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) is about to face his toughest challenge yet: apprehend a flasher who has been harrassing the female customers recently. He assembles his team and starts his investigation, but there's a problem in that the police have become involved as what the flasher is up to is a crime, and Ronnie is less than happy with the rivalry. This is especially true when Brandi (Anna Faris), the cosmetics counter assistant he has set his heart on, is the latest victim...
If there was ever a film which divided audiences, it was Observe and Report, a sour, difficult, possibly wrong-headed comedy that took a caustic examination of human nature and specifically the kind of male delusions that help them get through the day and attempted to mine a seam of humour from them. Rogen, previously seen as a rather cuddly performer, his more sarcastic break out role in cult TV show Freaks and Geeks notwithstanding, tested his new fans' patience with his character's downright dangerous behaviour, all excused to a point by the fact that he was on medication for mental health issues, which did not quite explain how he got to keep his job.
It was a position of responsibility after all, and he was more tolerated than admired, notably in light of this flasher which he sees as a chance to act the hero, but actually prompts him to behave even less healthily than a man who got his sexual kicks by exposing himself to passersby. Once Ray Liotta's police detective appears on the scene, Ronnie makes an enemy for life as his interfering with the legitimate cop's business, and Liotta's subsequent tries at ditching him as punishment for messing up his case, exacerbates his mental fragility and leaves him finding solace in the most macho activities he can find to indulge in.
It was difficult to see whether writer and director Jody Hill wanted us to admire this troublemaker, or laugh at his pathetic nature, but perhaps it was something of both. Certainly nobody in this was afraid of being offputting, and it was a mark of how oddly compelling it was that you kept watching to see how badly they would react or treat one another, the answer to that being pretty reprehensibly. Ronnie was both sinned against and sinning, so for example he gets to go on a date with Brandi, which she has no interest in and makes that clear in no uncertain terms, but still goes to bed with him, barely conscious at the end of a long evening's drinking.
On the other hand, there was Ronnie's budding relationship with the sweet, bullied Nell (Colette Wolfe) who gives him free coffee and actually sees good in him, in scenes which would be better in another movie until Ronnie lets his manliness get the better of him and beats up her boss (Patton Oswalt) for making fun of her and her injured leg. It seems you can be victim or victimiser at the drop of a hat in this world, and Ronnie knows that better than most, or at least he would if he had any iota of self-awareness as he plows his inadequacies into more violence, which funnily enough represents redemption when, say, shooting a criminal is what gets him respect instead of a prison term for acting like a maniac. It's hard to be impressed with anything that happens here for long: Michael Peña plays a fellow security guard who cheers up Ronnie with his spiritual ways which turn out to be industrial doses of drugs, a joke whose punchline is more violence. If you could respond to this bleak humour, you'd find it very funny indeed - everyone else would be left thoroughly dispirited. Music by Joseph Stevens.