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Heroes of the Zeroes: Observe and Report

by on August 7, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Observe and Report”
Rated R
2009

Only time and box-office receipts will tell whether 2009’s “Observe and Report” gunned down Seth Rogen’s commercial viability. Regardless, Jody Hill’s comic twist on “Taxi Driver” hardened Rogen’s onscreen heart and Hanna-Barbera face for his most unexpected performance.

Rogen is Ronnie, a mall security guard obsessed with apprehending a flasher. As Ronnie’s unstable psyche festers, he butts heads with a cop (Ray Liotta) and courts a cosmetics clerk (Anna Faris, playing puke-soaked vapidity to perfection even during a lightning-rod sex scene of questionable consent).

Hill mines major laughs from Ronnie and Jheri-curled partner Dennis (a brilliantly run-and-gun Michael Pena) asserting authority where they’ve been hired only to purport it. Hill also mercilessly digs at mall culture’s degenerative gluttony and the tolerance of awful behavior for commerce’s sake.

But whenever Ronnie springs to physical action, Hill and his movie go grim, showing bruising contusions and bones piercing flesh. Ronnie is something that Rogen simply has not been before: Damn scary.

What are his pills meant to correct? What are those people impaled upon in his investigatory chart? “No one laughs at me for trying to do, you know, my destiny. That’s not how this works,” Ronnie barks, consuming and vomiting bravado like a bulimic.

What distinguishes greatness is that some people aren’t bound for it. Gradually, “Observe” darkens into Ronnie’s quest to refute that at all costs. Fiendishly misanthropic, unnervingly funny and dangerously subversive, it feels like the cringe-comedy precursor to a newscast where peers assert Ronnie was a quiet man.

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