Observe and Report Blu-ray Review

All I was aware of going into Observe and Report (2009) was Seth Rogen (Knocked Up, Superbad) plays a security guard at a mall suffering emotionally scarring attacks from a malicious flasher. Being a sucker for Rogen’s brand of wacky, lowbrow humor that is all I needed to sell me on the premise. Yet the movie outflanked my expectations, as modest as they were, and for the most part not in a good way.

Ronnie Barnhardt (Rogen) patrols Forest Ridge mall in the spirit of a small town sheriff maintaining order with stern attitude and judicious use of force (shoplifters, skateboarders and illegal parking are a constant threat) while trying to catch the eye of cosmetics saleswoman and local hottie, Brandi (Anna Farris) and claiming well earned complimentary coffee. When he not surprisingly fails to make headway in the flasher incidents, police detective Harrison (Ray Liotta from Goodfellas) takes over the investigation. The detective’s presence is construed as a challenge, both to Ronnie’s authority for serving mall justice and Brandi’s affections, and also awakens his desire to become a police officer so he can upgrade from a taser to a real gun.

So far, so good for the buildup of a movie that I expected at best to dish out some hilarious hi-jinks… what the flick’s marketing conveniently doesn’t spell out is Ronnie happens to suffer from bi-polar disorder. This may or may not be related to his being so out of touch with everyday social perception that labeling him delusional is an understatement. Our less than beloved security guard (many reviewers compare him to Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle) interprets everyone’s reactions in whatever manner best suites his narcissistically constructed reality, and it does not help that he is often morally reprehensible (he is basically a bully with delusions of grandeur and a racist streak).

In short turn I was flinching at exchanges that I can only imagine sounded humorous when read from the script but are so misjudged that you wonder if this is supposed to be a parody of poorly executed comedy not realizing the irony in play. I enjoy enough dumb comedies that I think I know when lowbrow humor works (its kind of a no-brainer in that you find yourself laughing at the jokes) and far too often Rogen and crew deliver setups that fall embarrassingly flat. Yet before we declare the film an unmitigated failure, I admittedly did cackle out loud more than a few times, just not at what I expected.

The bits where I laughed in spite of myself are analogous to finding humor in a pedestrian who trips and falls then feeling kind of bad about it. These scenes (one of the most memorable lands somewhere between sloppy sex and date rape) really put the “guilt” into guilty pleasure as writer/director Jody Hill (creator of HBO’s Eastbound & Down) serves up 90ish minutes of often clueless, misguided losers and bids us to enjoy their mishaps.

It is not uncommon for enjoyable humor to originate from exploits of the less than sophisticated (Dumb and Dumber on the lowbrow end or the Office’s Michael Scott for more subtle fare). But there really is a conspicuous mean streak on display here such as in a scene where detective Harrison is rubbing Ronnie’s nose in his unsuccessful attempt to join the police force while a fellow cop eavesdrops. Part way through the exchange the other officer walks out stating, “I thought this would be funny but it’s just sad.” That aptly characterizes a good bit of this flick, yet I begrudgingly admit I garnered some laughs at the characters’ expense (and I kind of feel bad about it).

Director Jody Hill has constructed a film out of laugh out loud moments that you have mixed emotions about having enjoyed intertwined with far too many eye-averting spectacles that you aren’t sure are supposed to be funny or serious (I’m skeptical some of the actors had any idea either). As much as the narrative fails, it is definitely provocative at points including one of the most egregious uses of full frontal male nudity (just think fat, hairy and in slow motion) followed by a seriously violent WTF occurrence (causing me to inadvertently throw my remote then scramble to recover it so I could rewind) that wraps up the flasher thread. I’m still trying to erase some of the images from my mind.

Observe and Report comes to Blu-ray from Warner in a two-disc set. The first houses the high-def movie and standard-def extras on a single layer (25 Gb) BD with the second being a DVD providing a digital copy of the movie only for Windows Media capable devices. The BD is BD-Live enabled but as of this writing I am unable to access any content.

This is not the kind of film where you expect much visual splendor, and there are no surprises in that department. For what its worth, the 1080p 2.40:1 framed transfer turns in a fairly realistic effort. Yet primaries are so bright that they almost look unnaturally prominent but with no worrisome bleeding, and along those lines skin tones run slightly hot. The grain structure displays unevenness in certain shots which lends towards some DNR being utilized, and there was digital artifacting noticeable with close scrutiny (possibly due to the modest encoding bitrate?). While these are deficits, I doubt anyone taking this movie in is expecting high-def miracles and will easily appreciate the vibrant colors, well rendered blacks and decent detail which do their job to support the subversive comedy.

Much like the HD video effort, the English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD (16 bit/48 Khz) audio does what it needs to but will not win any awards. Even though it is a surround track, the rears are only sporadically utilized though you would think with the amount of activity in the mall there would be more back channel ambiance. There are guns involved which makes sense there should be gunshots, and along with the fight scenes, these provide moments of prominent kick and bass in the soundtrack. The tasty, eclectic pop/rock tunes spanning the last four decades (these were the highlight of the film for me) are nicely placed and have great fidelity. Lastly do not forget the dialog of which there is no shortage, however bad some of it is. It is anchored in the center with super clean delivery.

Additional audio is available in French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby 5.1 mixes with optional subtitles in English (SDH), French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Picture-in-Picture Commentary – Director Jody Hill, Seth Rogen and Anna Farris turn in a PiP commentary that visually takes up the lower right quarter of your screen and had to audibly fight for prominence with the film’s soundtrack. To be honest, I had no interest in a commentary after watching Observe and Report and was prejudiced against it going in. So if you enjoyed the film, you may find more value in this supplement than I did. To its benefit the trio joke around a good bit and exchange anecdotes about filming, but the track soon wears out its welcome as there is only so much background info needed about scenes you did not find funny to begin with.

Basically Training (6:48) – A promo featurette that gives an overview of the plot and highlights the fight scenes. Rogen also turns in his thoughts on Ronnie’s mental state.

Forrest Ridge Mall: Security Recruitment Video (3:01) – A mock recruitment video that sadly epitomizes the weakest moments of the film.

Seth Rogen and Anna Farris: Unscripted (7:38) – Multiple takes of the date scene between Ronnie and Brandi where the actors are winging it. Watching this was funnier than the actual scene. Near the end, it branches into improv from other actors.

Additional/Extended Scenes (27:11) – If you enjoyed the movie, then definitely check out these outtakes. They are no better or worse than what is in the feature and drive home how utterly delusional Ronnie is.

Gag Reel (12:17) – Flubbed takes from the actors. It is good see Rogen cracking up during filming while Liotta rarely breaks character. Either he was taking this role that seriously or he did not find much humor in it either.

What is there to say about a film that takes drug abuse, alcoholism, racism and mental disease as subjects for humor? I have enjoyed many a stupid comedy that had poor taste even dealing with these themes but not in such a matter that it makes you feel bad for the people involved. As stated I am not trying to claim the moral upper ground as I definitely found myself laughing but not often enough. As much as the funny moments were damn funny, I have a hard time recommending anyone suffer this comedy for such little payback.

Warner rolls out a competent high-def package but nothing anyone will be bragging about (but who was expecting that). The HD image and audio do what is needed but never impress further while the extras are a mixed bag. I think they are basically as good as you find the movie, and if it did not really work for you then they will not help. This Blu-ray release is definitely a rental at best unless you know what you are getting into.

– Robert Searle

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