Move over, Judd Apatow.
There’s a new master of R-rated comedy in town, one who doesn’t feel the need to pander to a mass audience by leavening the raunch with parables of love and friendship and heartwarming endings.
You might not have heard of Jody Hill before “Observe and Report” hit theaters. You’re certainly going to see a lot more from the writer-director in years to come, though. His uncomfortable but uproarious “Office”-style comedies are the most original things to hit the genre in ages.
Mr. Hill’s hilarious debut, “The Foot Fist Way,” was released last year and caught the eye of Will Ferrell, who helped produce Mr. Hill’s HBO series “Eastbound & Down,” which just got renewed for a second season.
Seth Rogen, Mr. Apatow’s frequent collaborator, stars in “Observe and Report” as Ronnie Barnhardt, head of security at Forest Ridge Mall. When a streaker starts terrorizing the women at the shopping center, Ronnie sees his chance for redemption. He’ll catch the pervert, making the mall safe for hot cosmetics-counter girl Brandi (Anna Faris) and parlay his fame into a job in which he can use a real gun.
The problem is, a real cop has been assigned to the case. Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) doesn’t think too much of Ronnie, and vice versa. When Ronnie catches the older, suaver Harrison with Brandi, the stakes get even higher. Can Ronnie solve the mystery, get the girl and snag a better job to better help the alcoholic mom (Celia Weston) with whom he still lives?
The year’s top-grossing film might be set in the same milieu, but this is no “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” The Kevin James comedy was rated a family-friendly PG; one person walking out of an “Observe” promo screening wondered how it managed to get just an R.
Mr. Hill fully uses every R-rated theme at his disposal to make a rip-roaringly hilarious film. Ronnie Barnhardt falls squarely within the “Office” tradition of the fumbling, oblivious and not always kindhearted protagonist. You’re disgusted by him, but, as he’s played by Mr. Rogen, it’s impossible not to sympathize with him just a little.
Michael Pena, so earnest in “Lions for Lambs,” steals lots of laughs as Ronnie’s lisping Mexican-American sidekick. He and Miss Faris are frightening in how well they portray people stoned on drink and drugs. Mr. Liotta is best known for dramatic roles, but he’s great here, showing off those chops when he rages against Ronnie. “Foot Fist” and “Eastbound” star Danny McBride has an amusing cameo as a drug dealer against whom Ronnie must test his mettle.
If you found “Paul Blart” too bland and wonder where comedy will go post-Apatow, you need to see “Observe and Report.”
TITLE: “Observe and Report”
RATING: R (Pervasive language, graphic nudity, drug use, sexual content and violence)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Jody Hill
RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes
WEB SITE: observe-and-report.warnerbros.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS