Jody Hill’s “Observe and Report” is like a Will Ferrell movie that’s been run over by a car again and again until it’s warped and unrecognizable. It’s still has the rough shape of a feel-good story about a lovable loser, a mall security guard who longs to be a real policeman and who’s in love with the bitchy make-up counter girl while failing to see that the sweet coffee stand cashier genuinely cares about him. And it manages to hit every expected point in that scenario, including the triumphant nabbing of a flasher who’s been terrorizing the shopping complex, without being in the least bit feel-good — a testament to Hill, whose willingness to take his laughs darker than anyone would expect and than some will be able to tolerate gave his 2006 debut “The Foot Fist Way” an immediate cult following.
Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) isn’t just an oddball with a dead-end job, he’s manic, bellicose and on meds, which he ill-advisedly stops taking as things start to go his way. His mother, who he lives with, is a raging alcoholic; his coworker and best friend (Michael Peña) enables the only heroin gag you may ever see in a studio movie; the object of his lust, Brandi (Anna Faris), with her frosted hair and frosted lips, gets so completely wasted on daiquiris during her unwilling dinner with Ronnie that by the end of the night she’s spitting up pink goo. The movie’s got plenty of comedic highlights, along with appearances from Danny McBride (for whom “The Foot Fist Way” provided a comic breakout) and Patton Oswalt as an abusive Cinnabon manager, but Rogen and Faris together are on their own plane. Her delusional egotism and his delusional aggrandizement combine in a brilliant sequence in which they go on a date and she convinces him to give her his prescription pills, which, chased down with multiple tequila shots, ends with brief, disturbing and hilarious sex scene I won’t mar with more detailed description.
For Hill, though, the apex of funniness is still unwarranted and unexpectedly brutal violence, and “Observe and Report”‘s beat-downs range from the thrashing of a group of skateboarders to a fairly gruesome shooting. It starts to seem a strange thing to laugh at about halfway through, even if the roughness always has no more consequence than a Looney Tunes cartoon. Acquired taste that it may be, it’s a welcome change of pace from the gooey-centered work of team Apatow — there’s something to be said for being mean.