"Demented, unfunny, and yet perversely fascinating." --Washington Post review of Observe and Report
The writer Susan Orlean says she's drawn to what she calls the idea of the "tiny master," a person "with a tiny domain over which they are the master." This seems true of writer/director Jody Hill as well. In his first (and funniest) film, The Foot Fist Way, Danny McBride plays a foul-mouthed Tae Kwon Doe instructor whose kingdom is challenged by his hero, Chuck "The Truck." On HBO's, Eastbound and Down, created by Hill, Danny McBride (again) plays Kenny Powers, a former pro baseball star and one of the most narcissistic television creations since Ricky Gervais's David Brent. On first try, I gave up on Eastbound after two episodes. It just felt too...cruel, the humor built almost entirely around Kenny damaging the largely good-hearted people around him. But I went back and, by the end of the sixth and final episode, it won me over. Like Gervais's Brent, McBride's Kenny is so oblivious to the destruction he causes that you can almost root for him, on some strange level. And now there's Seth Rogen's Ronnie in Hill's new film, Observe and Report. Ronnie's a bipolar mall cop who believes, like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (a professed influence on this film) that it's his sworn duty to rid his kingdom of the scum (in this case, a parking-lot flasher) who corrupt its innocent citizens (in this case, Anna Faris, as a mall make-up girl, by no means innocent). It's never quite clear how we're meant to feel about Ronnie and, unlike the protagonists of Foot Fist and Eastbound, his unchallenged rule within his "tiny domain" never feels believable. Can, for instance, his merciless smashing-up of the local teen skateboarders really remain unpunished? But this too is part of the point (I think): the mall's other residents are largely so caught up in their own fantasy worlds that Ronnie's ever-escalating sadism and actual emotional problems barely register for them. The film is crude and often cruel, easy for many to critics to dismiss, but if Hill evolves beyond these already-repetitive characters, I've got a feeling he might do something much more interesting (and actually write a film worthy of the kind of darkly comic character-driven pieces that obviously inspire him).