There's a moment in "Observe and Report" when Ray Liotta's character tells his buddies how funny it'll be to shatter Seth Rogen's dreams, so they hide in a closet while Liotta informs Rogen that he failed his psych exam and will never be a real police officer. But after a few moments, one of the cop buddies steps out of hiding and says "I'm sorry...I thought this'd be funny, but really it's just kind of sad."
Hell yeah, it is. Don't let the ads or the ambivalent reviews fool you: "Observe and Report" may be the most brazenly experimental film released by a major studio this year. It will take your idea of what "comedy" is (a generally pleasant experience, marked by laughter and merriment) and twist it into something else (90 minutes of misanthropic horror at which you cannot help but sometimes laugh).
It's not that comedies can't be sad. I love comedies that aren't afraid to let the pathos ride in, movies like "The Apartment" or "Say Anything" or "Knocked Up." But this is altogether different. In those films, the sad and the happy are compartmentalized; the drama is treated with gravity, punctured by moments of light, fluffy laughter. Here...here the comedy derives from the drama. You watch these miserable people be miserable, and you laugh at them, because they are so shallow and amoral and deluded. And it feels gross. You leave the theater with a sticky, dirty feeling...like when the slow kid at your high school does a really ludicrous-looking dance, and everyone is standing in a circle laughing at him, and he's grinning from ear-to-ear because he thinks he's being entertaining, but you know that the laughter is really just derisive and condescending and that he can't tell the difference. It's the laughter that hurts your soul.
It's not the kind of comedy I want to be a part of, and it's not exactly a movie I can easily recommend, but it's an interesting experiment in how people define "dark" humor. It takes serious balls to make a film who's immediate influences are Larry Clark and "Taxi Driver," and then ask Blockbuster to file it next to "Old School." But do big balls make a good movie? I'll let the scholars debate that one.