Stalk like a man

“I’ll bet you can’t pat your head and rub your belly at the same time!”

“I’ll bet you can’t pat your head and rub your belly at the same time!”

Rated 4.0

In Observe and Report, Seth Rogen plays a man so unnervingly insane, it’s sometimes hard to figure out whether you should laugh or scream at him. His complete lack of stability gives the film—a hilarious effort from director Jody Hill—that wonderful and somewhat scary “anything can happen” vibe. The funny film rulebook has been thrown out the proverbial window for this one.

Rogen is Ronnie, a bipolar mall security guard bent on becoming a police officer someday and dangerously in love with perfume counter girl Brandi (Anna Faris, giving a fearless and funny performance). When a trench-coat-wearing pervert flashes Brandi in the parking lot, Ronnie makes it his mission to protect her and take her out to dinner. A real cop (Ray Liotta) shows up to investigate the pervert, and Ronnie immediately dubs the man his mortal enemy.

As for his home life, Ronnie lives with his drunken mother (Celia Weston), who bestows messed-up wisdom upon her son in between blackout spells. A gun collector, he’s also taking some medication to help with the bipolar thing. He decides that the pills aren’t necessary. About those pills, Ronnie is wrong … very, very wrong.

In Ronnie’s mind, his date with Brandi is the greatest night of his life, culminating in a nice hearty round of lovemaking. To the audience, the finale is pretty close to date rape, although director Hill and Faris cop out a bit in the end. The moment winds up being just a few clicks short of being one of the sickest film comedy moments of all time. Scratch that, it’s definitely in the top 50.

Ronnie’s pursuit of a career with the police is an unfortunate and misguided one. He aces the physical part of the preliminary training—a very funny sequence—but screws up a bit during the psychological part of the exam. Hint to Ronnie: Don’t end your session with a person evaluating your sanity by pantomiming shotgun blasts into her face. They frown upon that.

The supporting cast is top notch. Michael Pena gets a chance to bring the funny as Ronnie’s security guard wingman, sporting a Jheri curl and effeminate lisp. Liotta, in his best role in years, gets a chance to rage Goodfellas-style after initially appearing calm, cool and collected. As a coffee counter girl, relative newcomer Collette Wolfe is charming and sweet. The moment when she breaks down in front of Ronnie is one of the film’s best and a sign that Wolfe should be getting some big roles in the future.

With each film, Rogen gets better. A recent story making the rounds has Rogen claiming he doesn’t want to do serious roles, but the role of Ronnie is pretty damned serious. Rogen is quite convincing as a man with tremendous rage problems and delusions of grandeur. Also, a couple of scenes where Ronnie goes off on attackers show that Rogen might make for a very good superhero when he takes on the role of Green Hornet next year.

Ronnie Barnhardt comes off as an uncomfortable mixture of two Martin Scorsese film characters, Travis Bickle of Taxi Driver and Rupert Pupkin from The King of Comedy. Both characters, played by the immortal Robert De Niro, had stalking tendencies, and while Ronnie possesses Bickle’s propensity towards violence, he’s also a good-natured, comedic stalker who lives with his momma, like Pupkin.

The film has some gross scenes, but I wouldn’t label it a gross-out comedy. It definitely thrives on the outrageous and bizarre and inspires as many stunned gasps as laughs. Although Ronnie does draw some comparisons to Scorsese characters of the past, he’s comfortably off in his own special, deranged category.