So wrong, but so funny, too

I almost feel like apologizing in advance for the fairly positive review I'm giving "Observe and Report" in the next few column spaces.

There's a pretty good chance people will go see this movie with the impression that this comedy about a portly, shopping-center security guard will be in the same vein as that head-scratching monster hit, "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." Well, I'm here to tell you that's not the case -- and I'm also quite happy about that.

"Report" has nowhere near the Adam Sandler-produced shenanigans that the chubby-yet-aerodynamic Kevin James saw in "Blart." Oh no, this is some twisted (but still mad funny) stuff. Some people might leave the theater in disgust. I, on the other hand, will find that to be even more entertaining than what's on-screen.

Anyone who knows the work of Jody Hill, the director of last year's "The Foot Fist Way" and one of the creators of the HBO sitcom "Eastbound & Down," knows the delight of creating cringe-worthy comedy that will entertain some and alienate others. (One of the joys of watching "Foot" was seeing people walk out when they realized that this wasn't a Will Ferrell-style laugh riot.) His work is highly divisive -- you either hate it or you love it. For reasons that are even beginning to bother me, I'm starting to be more in the latter camp.

Just like the main protagonists of "Foot" and "Down" (both played by Danny McBride, who has a bit role in "Report"), the protagonist of "Report" is a hero in his mind. And what a very warped mind it is.

Seth Rogen, usually such a doughy, lovable sweetheart in other movies, is bad to the bone and then some as Ronnie Barnhardt, the gun-loving, authority-wielding head of a mall security team that includes pudgy Asian twins and a Jheri-curled, pot-bellied Latino with a lisp (Michael Peña, who gets laughs every time he opens his mouth).

With a pervert loose in the mall parking lot, exposing his manliness to female shoppers and employees, Barnhardt and his team get on the case. He gets truly serious when the pervert shows himself to Brandi (Anna Faris), the cosmetics girl Barnhardt is so quietly smitten with that he can't see that she's basically a pig.

But before he can find any clues, an actual police detective (Ray Liotta) shows up and starts his own investigation. Needless to say, the two butt heads, with the cop eventually getting fed up with Barnhardt and his rampant dimwittedness. But he also disregards just how dedicated -- and deranged -- this food-court bouncer really is.

"Report" has been referred to as the comic equivalent of "Taxi Driver," but comparing it to that film undermines the crude/rude/shrewd crankiness this movie exudes. Just as he's shown with "Foot" and "Down," writer/director Hill apparently has a gift for getting at -- and mocking -- this country's down-home, deep-rooted ugliness. And he takes it to full-tilt level in "Report." I mean, what better place to set a whacked-out film that satirizes American incompetence, excess and arrogance than at a shopping mall, with a cocky, deluded flashlight cop front-and-center?

Both Hill and Rogen seem to give everything they've got in giving us a lead character who's laughably ignorant, scarily unhinged -- and oddly sympathetic. Sometimes, even Hill has a hard time reining in the nastiness, as things get so messed-up, violent and strange for Barnhardt, audiences won't know whether to laugh or be mildly disturbed.

But then again, when a movie centers around an obviously (and obliviously) bipolar mall security guard, you gotta take the good with the weird.

The movie is capped off by a ending that's so deliriously, insanely funny, I've been trying my best not to give it away to people for the past two weeks. (I will say it involves running and the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" playing in the background.) Even if you abhor this movie so much you want to flee the scene, you should really stick around to watch the "Observe and Report" finale. It's the right conclusion to such a wrong movie.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer