I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering why Hollywood, in its infinite wisdom, decided audiences needed to see two mall cop films released within 3 months of each other. And the reason you’re wondering this is because Warner Brothers decided to market Jody Hill’s subversive, black comedy, Observe & Report, as a comedy. Ostensibly I suppose it is, but the film has such a deep, dark black heart that you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that thought this movie was even in the same ballpark as Paul Blart: Mall Cop, this year’s other mall cop film. This film is more along the lines of Travis Bickle: Mall Cop (fuck you Variety magazine, I thought of it first). Anyone who goes into this film expecting the typical Seth Rogen feel-good stoner flick will get quite a surprise when they learn just how disturbed an individual he’s playing here. As a huge fan of black comedies I spent a great deal of the film laughing, though much of it was due to how exceedingly fucked up the characters who populate this film really are. Rogen stars as Ronald “Ronnie” Barnhardt, head of mall security and leader to a squad of halfwits headed up by his right-hand man, Dennis (Michael Pena). When a pervert in a trench coat starts flashing women in the mall parking lot, Ronnie takes things a little too seriously and his rapid descent into a completely psychotic state of mind begins. Not only is he desperate to solve the case on his own, without the aid of the police, led by Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta, finally in something worth watching again!), but he’s also trying to protect the object of his affection, Brandi (Anna Faris), a make-up counter employee who was the latest victim of the flasher. Ronnie, thinking he’s more in control of the situation than he knows, decides to stop taking his medication… and thus begins his mind’s warp-speed descent into total madness. People need to understand that this is not a typical Seth Rogen film. Everyone knows him as this cuddly, slightly-overweight stoner with great improvisational skills and a husky voice. Here, he’s much more subtle in his approach. This is a dark character with some serious emotional problems. You know those guys in high school who always tried to act hard, like they had some deep-rooted issues with authority? The same guys who would probably fantasize about being police officers just so that they could call the shots and fuck with people? Well, Ronnie is that kind of guy… only in addition to all of his obvious social deficiencies he also happens to be bi-polar. The man has no filter, and he won’t hesitate to do whatever he thinks is necessary to keep his mall safe, regardless of who gets hurt. As I said before, he’s very much like Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle character from Taxi Driver. Just watch the scene where Ronnie goes to police headquarters to apply for a position; it’s heavily influenced by the scene in Taxi Driver where Travis talks to the CIA agent about recruitment. Rogen isn’t as loud and brash as usual, though he does swear and yell a lot, rather he spends most of the film delivering lines in a cool demeanor reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter or Henry Lee Lucas. I really enjoyed seeing Rogen break free of his typical persona, and this is one of his best roles, in my opinion. Credit for Rogen’s dark turn can’t entirely go to the man himself, however, as that distinction falls squarely on the shoulders of Jody Hill. You’re probably not very familiar with Hill’s work, but he’s quickly making a name for himself as a director specializing in putting his characters, and his audience, in extremely uncomfortable positions and forcing us to watch people break down in unsettling ways. I still haven’t seen his debut film, Foot Fist Way, but it’s high on my list. His most recent project, HBO’s Eastbound & Down, one of the most vulgar shows on television right now, is fucking hilarious. There are only 6 episodes and each one is 22 minutes of solid gold. Hill directs the film with a 70’s attitude, an era which typically depicted films about man versus the machine of society. Unlike Judd Apatow, who probably would have turned this into a 2+ hour slapstick comedy, Hill makes this film tight as a drum. Running a scant 86 minutes, there’s just enough time to assault an audience’s sense before allowing them to leave the theater feeling like they’ve been violated in some horrific fashion. Again, as a huge fan of black comedy I eagerly anticipate seeing where Hill’s career goes. I’m reminded of filmmakers like Todd Solondz, he of Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness fame, and I hope Hill takes off on a similar trajectory. There are some, uh… interesting supporting characters populating this film. The main focus is on Ronnie, so most are left to fill in comedic gaps, but the standout here is easily Michael Pena as Dennis, Ronnie’s deputy. The film introduces him as someone who admires Ronnie and always has his back, regardless of how wrong he may be. It’s only when Ronnie is at his lowest point that Dennis decides it’s time to cheer him up the only way he knows how: drugs, and lots of them. After that, Dennis is a fucking wild man. Anna Faris is a funny chick, mostly. Her lips are so collagen filled they look like she gave oral to a tailpipe and they blistered up, but I digress, she’s perfect as Ronnie’s object of desire (and later, anger). Their “date” is troublesome for many reasons. Ray Liotta! In something that wasn’t shot in Romania or shipped DTV! He looks good and he kicks major ass. ‘Nuff said there. Of course, this being a Jody Hill film, Danny McBride shows up to chew some scenery. It’s not his funniest role, but I’ll be damned if the guy doesn’t steal every scene in every movie he’s in. I can’t wait for Season 2 of Eastbound & Down. This isn’t a film for everyone, that’s for sure. I saw a group of about 8 people leave halfway through, probably because the film isn’t what they were expecting. This is a companion film to Paul Blart: Mall Cop only in the sense that it features a mall cop, not that I really know because I haven’t seen Paul Blart, but you get where I’m going with this. If you’re into subversive comedies with dark sensibilities, this should be right up your alley. It’s vulgar, crude, offensive and, yet, somewhere beneath all of that cynical sentiment there’s a little bit of heart. See it with someone you love, if only to remind them that at least you’re not as fucked up as this guy.