Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Michael Peña, Ray Liotta. Dark Comedy. Written & directed by Jody Hill.
FILM SYNOPSIS: At the Forest Ridge Mall, head of security Ronnie Barnhardt patrols his jurisdiction with an iron fist, combating skateboarders, shoplifters and the occasional unruly customer while dreaming of the day when he can swap his flashlight for a badge and a gun. His delusions of grandeur are put to the test when the mall is struck by a flasher. Driven to protect and serve the mall and its patrons, Ronnie seizes the opportunity to showcase his underappreciated law enforcement talents on a grand scale, hoping his solution of this crime will earn a coveted spot at the police academy and the heart of his elusive dream girl Brandi, the hot make-up counter clerk who won’t give him the time of day. But his single-minded pursuit of glory launches a turf war with the equally competitive Detective Harrison of the Conway Police, and Ronnie is confronted with the challenge of not only catching the flasher, but getting him before the real cops do.
PREVIEW REVIEW: I used to get excited when I heard the description “dark comedy.” In a previous era that meant a Dr. Strangelove, Network or the original version of The Ladykillers. Alas, now it means other things.
Seth Rogen once again plays a vulnerable bumbler, and once more the crude comedian is determined to push the envelope of taste. Hey, you name the envelope and this guy will push it. Here he turns the nerdy underdog genre into a highbred assault on the senses. With 160 uses of the f-word alone, not to mention every other obscenity he can muster, plus insensitive gags about casual drug use and mall shootings, he takes the genre to a new low.
I’ve heard Mr. Rogen’s voice used in a couple of kid-friendly animated films in which he had to guard against vulgarity, proving in those ventures that he is indeed a witty performer. But evidently, he feels more comfortable establishing himself as the Sultan of Slime.
Though much of comedy is built on outrageousness, there comes a point when the material becomes a sad commentary concerning society’s moral torpor. Like his contemporaries, Mike Myers, Ben Stiller and Jason Segal, Seth Rogan is not content with bathroom humor, but insists on spending much of his screen time in the sewer. He’s paid a lot of money to do this and evidently there are a great many people willing to sludge around in a cesspool of soporific stench with the portly entertainer. I guess that’s what’s most disturbing. Even those leaving the screening with negative comments sat through it all. It seems there is no point where today’s moviegoers will become indignant enough to walk out of a film.
Recently Kevin James made a bagful of loot playing a good-hearted loser in Paul Blart, Mall Cop. The difference, Mr. James presented his character and storyline without today’s accepted social ambivalence. Mr. Rogen on the other hand seems to think a comic gag is not really funny unless you attach jolting verbiage.
At one point, the lead character goes off the deep end with a sidekick who knows no boundaries. He’s the really bad boy, taking pictures of girls undressing in changing stalls, robbing shops, using cocaine and even heroine. These scenes are meant as satire, I realize, but the message is muddled. He pays no price for his villainy, and the film sends no clear caution for such antisocial behavior. At least our hero comes to his senses when his comrade starts ripping off a jewelry store. But by then I’d almost lost mine.
Some things just aren’t funny. There are too many kooks in the news killing strangers in malls or schools or churches. Those involved in this production are not skilled enough to garner satire from such events. And Mexico is nearly being overrun by drug lords thanks much to the purchasing of narcotics by those in America, so the sight of casual drug use is also in questionable taste.
I was in a foul mood after seeing this film, angered by the direction of our culture, and the inability of a filmmaker to tell a funny story without basing most of the humor upon sophomoric vulgarity.
DVD Alternative: The Wrong Arm of the Law, a funny Peter Sellers spoof about a trio of innocents who find themselves evading the law after they’ve confiscated loot from the real robbers.