(2009) Jody Hill.
writes that actor Seth Rogen plays main character Ronnie Barnhardt "with admirable disregard for audience empathy.“ It has taken eight years for the post-9/11 psychic effect on the average Joe to play out most expressively in mainstream movies. Assuredly, Spike Lee’s 25th Hour did it in 2002, but that was firstly a New York movie. Observe and Report takes place in Ex Urbania, U.S.A. Like any great work of art about war, the war is not mentioned or seen (like The Deer Hunter Pittsburgh sequences, and Hemingway’s quiet girthy tale of fishing on "Big River"). Ronnie is a gullible social neophyte who has latched upon an expectation of himself based on the boosterism of honor and duty but finds that the world doles out otherwise. Compounded by bipolar disorder, absent father, and a mother who recovers alcoholism by pounding beers all day and can still be fine - Ronnie is ripe to crack. He believes doubtlessly in the sincerity of his night out with Brandi, the cosmetics-counter skank (Anna Faris with a sly wink-wink performance), and it can be said that the conception scene in Knocked Up is as equally maladjusted a conjugal interaction as Ronnie and Brandi’s mawkish connubials. Seth Rogen is becoming poster boy for the awkward, gross hook-up to which most people can relate but suppress into murky memory. In Ronnie’s naively ill mind, it was a night of passion. He is inspired by the suddenly evolved camaraderie with Dennis, his Chicano recidivist co-security guard, and together they lay the punishing rod to parking-lot skateboarders. Is Ronnie really ignorant? An idealist victim?
He is true to himself to the point of vacating his identity - the “real Ronnie” get-up for his date with Brandi is an elegantly sub-goombah goldchain ensemble, as is the bicameral mind costume of Ronnie’s climactic alias Gil Jacobson, with Kangold cap and fuddy-dud windbreaker. Each of these outfits are small masterful techniques of characterization, and they fool no one but Ronnie. Society has corrupted the young man - his glorification of justice through violence targets the current conservative enemies via Islamofascism & Illegal Immigration: Arabs & Latinos. He is convinced he passes his police psychological evaluation with flying colors by disclosing his dream of wielding "the biggest motherfucking shotgun you've ever seen" and blowing away the black cloud of "cancer and pus" that terrorizes Playground Earth (sounding alot like the smoke monster on Lost). Ronnie's soliloquies are infused with the cliched grandiose language of religion and New Ague self-help and 1980s soldier-of-fortune style pulp paperbacks: absurd, lyrical, complex sound collages for the new century. Like Dennis says, his anti-buddy, "Sometimes I drink from volcanoes."
Are we to be happy for Ronnie regaining his job, achieving the adoration of Nell - the more steady-headed gal, the scarred but smiling coffee-counter sweetheart (she recognizes her own reformed darkness in Ronnie), and winning approbation for gunning down the puddy-wang Mall Flasher? It is a Hollywood ending, and though Ronnie’s goals from the beginning are met, they accompany a severe harrowing of hell that most moviemakers relent to include (an exception being the Coen Bros, and Ronnie invokes John Turturro’s “The Schmatte” from Miller's Crossing in his mock supplication, "Look in your heart!" before thrashing his gangsta accosters led by picaresquely vulgar Danny McBride). Ronnie thinks he does inscrutable good, executing moral authority to the cybergogic Queen soundtrack of Flash Gordon, but his comeuppance is betrayal and psychotropic malfunction. In the end, the uppity news anchor finally gets Ronnie’s professional title correct, when in the beginning, to the tune of The Band’s jangly-wangly “Masterpiece,” not even Ronnie has it right.