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Film / Observe and Report

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... Because it's full of people like Ronnie Barnhardt.

"I thought this was gonna be funny, but instead it's just kinda sad."
Det. Nichols, a quote that sums up the movie pretty well.

Observe and Report (2009) is a very dark comedy written/directed by Jody Hill and starring Seth Rogen as a bipolar, delusional mall security guard who becomes obsessed with catching a flasher, coming into conflict with a detective (Ray Liotta) also trying to capture the flasher. Being released three months after the PG-rated Paul Blart: Mall Cop, the films have drawn inevitable comparisons to each other.

This film includes examples of:

  • Alpha Bitch: Brandi through and through.
  • Back Up Twin: Discussed. "If one of you died, God sent me another."
  • Black Comedy: This film is the answer to the question "What if Taxi Driver was a comedy?"
  • Black Comedy Rape: Brandi is possibly blackout drunk yet Ronnie has no qualms with having sex with her. Crosses the Line Twice when she asks, "Why are you stopping, motherfucker?"
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Nearly to Evil vs. Evil levels. Ronnie is a seriously disturbed man who should not be anywhere near a gun, but he does legitimately want to be a good guy. In the meantime, he's fighting against a serial flasher.
  • Big Bad Friend: Dennis is a supportive friend to Ronnie. Said support involves manipulating Ronnie into beating up children and taking heroin. He also regularly robs the mall.
  • Brainless Beauty: Brandi.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Deconstructed as sane people consider Ronnie a delusional person and try to avoid him for it.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: This movie is loaded with these. One example includes Ronnie and Saddamn (an Indian clerk who is harassed constantly by Ronnie due to his heritage) engaging in an argument consisting of nothing of "fuck you"'s, which grow quiet until they're mouthing the insults to each other.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Ronnie vs. six crackheads. They're able to touch him once.
  • Damsel in Distress: What Ronnie considers Brandi. Nell is also in need of some manly backup.
  • Darker and Edgier than Paul Blart: Mall Cop, in no small part due to being Bloodier and Gorier.
  • Dirty Cop: Harrison falls into this by leaving Ronnie to die in the worst part of town just because he personally disliked him. He also has sex with Brandi, one of the flasher's victims. Dennis, Ronnie's fellow mall cop, encourages Ronnie to beat up children and take drugs, while also stealing from the mall.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Ronnie shoots the flasher in the chest. Sure, he's a flasher, but gunfire is a bit much for such a petty criminal. He doesn't die and is duly arrested, though.
    • Ronnie annoys Harrison for a day and in return Harrison leaves Ronnie to get murdered by drug dealers.
    • Ronnie might be a jerk and a hindrance, but Det. Harrison going out of his way to personally inform Ronnie that he failed the psychological test to become a police officer and the enjoyment he got from seeing Ronnie's dream crushed was just cruel. One of his fellow pranksters even calls him on it, saying it's "just sad."
  • Everyone Has Standards: Ronnie is by no means a good person but even he draws the line in making fun of the handicapped. Him intimidating Nell's boss because he was bullying her was Ronnie's rare hero moment.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Dennis seems to be a quiet-natured and supportive friend who genuinely believes he can help Ronnie... by getting him to steal, beat up kids and take heroin. Even after betraying Ronnie, he sends a friendly postcard.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Ronnie and Harrison.
  • Hero Antagonist: Det. Harrison is just a cop trying to bust a flasher and butting heads with a seriously deranged mall cop, but he's also such a sleazebag that he manages to stay pretty firmly in the villain category.
  • Heroic Wannabe: Ronnie himself wants to do just about anything to be a heroic cop.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The more Ronnie puts into catching the flasher, the more violent and unhinged he becomes. Dennis eventually persuades Ronnie to beat up children and take drugs, turning Ronnie into a full-blown criminal.
  • Hysterical Woman: Brandi after the flasher exposes himself to her
  • Insult Backfire: When Ronnie calls Brandi out on her promiscuous ways after she thanks him for rescuing her from the flasher. Just watch her reaction when Ronnie points her out as one who will stab you in the back by screwing your enemies.
  • Jerkass: Ronnie, Brandi and Harrison are all real jerks. In particular, Saddamn (see quote above in Cluster F-Bomb).
  • Karma Houdini: Much like in Taxi Driver, Ronnie narrowly escapes punishment for his crimes by managing to become a hero at the last minute. Also, Dennis robs the mall frequently, gets Ronnie to beat kids for skateboarding on mall property, and ends up knocking Ronnie out and stealing a car to flee. The last we hear of him has him partying in Mexico.
  • Knight Templar: Ronnie takes his job a little too seriously.
  • Lady Drunk: Ronnie's mom.
  • The Mall: Where Ronnie is the head of security.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Subverted. Ronnie appears to be an example, until he unleashes a Curb-Stomp Battle on some hoods.
  • Momma's Boy: Ronnie. Never really explained whether he lives with his mom or she with him.
  • Mugging the Monster: Some drug dealers try to victimize Ronnie when he's dropped off in their hood. Even the audience doesn't realize how crazy violent he is until this point.
  • Musicalus Interruptus: The movie has a strange habit of playing loud music over a scene, and then immediately cut to the next scene with the music suddenly stopping (often times with loud dialogue in the next scene). It comes to a head when Ronnie shoots the flasher, and a cover version of The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" suddenly stops with no scene transition.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Even if you don't consider Ronnie to be a good guy, what he does to Nell's boss and coworker qualifies as "two wrongs making a right".
  • No Medication for Me: Ronnie abruptly decides to go off his meds.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Ronnie tries to go undercover to catch the flasher. No one is fooled.
    Saddamn: Fuck you, Ronnie! Nice hat, you stupid motherfucker!
  • Pet the Dog: Ronnie's interactions with Nell managed to bring out a human side of him.
  • Power Fantasy: As part of his psych eval, the assigned case worker asks Ronnie — who's already admitted to having unmedicated bipolar disorder and wanting to "destroy some motherfuckers" — why he wants to be a police officer. Ronnie tells her that, "most nights", he has a recurring dream where a evil black cloud made of cancer sweeps over an idyllic playground and begins hurting all the children, until Ronnie steps up with a giant shotgun and starts doing "God's work" by indiscriminately blowing it away; afterwards, a grateful world gathers at his feet, looks up, and thanks him, to which he humbly responds that it's just his duty as a cop. Ronnie seems to think that this is inspiring, instead of a sign that he's a psychotic and potentially dangerous man with a hero complex, who shouldn't be anywhere near a gun or a position of authority.
  • Rabid Cop: Ronnie is a very violent and delusional mall cop.
  • Schlubby, Scummy Security Guard:
    • Ronnie is a bipolar and delusional security guard who has sex with Brandi while she's blackout drunk, has violent fantasies, and wants to be a cop.
    • Dennis, Ronnie's colleague, is a Big Bad Friend who persuades Ronnie to take drugs and to assault skateboarders, revealing that he's also the person who's been stealing from the mall.
  • Secret Test of Character: What Ronnie believes being left at "the crossroads" was.
  • Shout-Out: Ronnie's brawl with the police is choreographed like the football-themed brawl in Flash Gordon, and features the same music.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Far down the cynical end.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: The film can be served as a deconstruction of Paul Blart: Mall Cop. If Blart wasn't a lovable schlub but a delusional sociopath.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Ronnie to Brandi.
  • Stood Up: What Brandi tried to do to Ronnie. Subverted when he waits outside her house for hours until she arrives and convinces her to still go out with him.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: Nell, towards the end, though she was never truly disabled; she was just recovering from surgery.