Observe and Report: Bad Santa, but with a fat guy in a mall

2009 was the year of the comedy mall cop. Paul Blart and Observe and Report each took the concept and ran in opposite directions with it.

Paul Blart was a silly family comedy, while Observe and Report has been compared to Taxi Driver by some and maligned by others. Is there something worth salvaging from this oddball black comedy? Hit the jump to find out.

Bad Santa is an odd movie. No, we've not forgotten what film we're reviewing, we're going somewhere with this. The 2003 Billy Bob Thorton vehicle features the former Mr Jolie as an alcoholic, amoral criminal who makes a living by posing as a department store Santa and robbing the place with his midget/elf partner.

He happens upon a young boy stuck living with a senile-to-the-point-of-catatonia relative and sees the opportunity to squat in the house. The child, however, manages to access the single remaining living cell left in Thornton's black heart and he ends up turning over a new leaf. So far, so family comedy. The difference here is that, until Thornton's turnaround, he drinks until he vomits, has sex with random strangers in changing rooms, takes drugs, steals from and beats up children, and so on. The flaw in the film is that no-one could honestly be expected to sympathise with this sociopath, so it is really hard to care about his redemption.

Observe and Report has essentially the same set up. Seth Rogan is a mall cop dreaming of the chance to be a real police officer, but hampered by caring for his alcoholic, single mother and his self-destructive bipolar disorder. Rogan's character displays similar behaviour to Thornton's: beating up kids, date raping a woman who is overdosing on his medication and generally getting on everyone's nerves. In a particularly-painful scene, he engages in a random verbal assault on an Arab shop worker, accusing him of being a terrorist and calling him "Saddam".

The film turns around, however, when Ray Liotta's supercop finally loses his rag with Rogan's inept hero worship and decides to take him on a "ridealong". He then dumps Rogan in the worst neighbourhood in town and tells him to "go on patrol". Rogan is immediately confronted by a gang of thugs... and kicks their asses and drags them back to the police station. This twists the film from being about a detestable loser to being about a man who could be a success except for his tragic mental illness.

This upswing continues, culminating in Rogan refusing to abandon his precious mall after having been fired and Liotta and thirty cops arriving to escort him out. Rogan then proceeds to hold his own against insurmountable odds to the Attack of The Hawkmen theme from Flash Gordon. This is possibly the greatest scene ever filmed.

It's downhill from here, but the film manages to succeed where Bad Santa fails by making you root for its antihero instead of detest him. This is largely due to Rogan's own innate likeability. The plot may meander a little and it still courts controversy a little too freely, but the film offers more worth observing than reporting (sorry).

1 comment:

  1. The flaw in the film is that no-one could honestly be expected to sympathise with this sociopath

    Billy-Bob's Bad Santa is one of my favourite redemption arcs in any film. Let alone sympathise, I quite admire the guy. Then again my other film hero is Withnail so there might be an obvious pattern here.