Observe and Report. Writer/director Jody Hill makes a quantum leap from his low-budget 2006 debut feature "The Foot Fist Way" with a hilarious, subversive black comedy about America’s post-911 culture of authority-abusing misfits commonly referred to as security guards. Seth Rogen plays Ronnie Barnhardt, a racist, sociopath security guard who is far more Travis Bickle than Paul Blart. Ronnie is the bipolar head of security at the Forest Ridge Mall, where a trench coat-wearing flasher accosts the object of Ronnie’s wrongheaded affection, a vapid make-up counter clerk named Brandi (brilliantly played by Anna Farris). The arrival of local, no-nonsense police detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) threatens Ronnie’s ego to the point that he decides to apply to become a police officer after Harrison drops Ronnie off in a deadly ghetto to fend for himself. The film’s title spells out in no uncertain terms the limits of authority for security guards obsessed with checking your bag and wanding your body at public entryways. The film is a takeno-prisoners satire that rises to the level of Martin Scorsese’s 1982 milestone "The King of Comedy." The audience is continuously kept off balance by Hill’s unconventional use of slapstick humor offset by straight-to-the-heart dialogue and over-the-top plotting. Rogan’s performance is beyond perfect, and supporting efforts by Liotta, Celia Weston and Michael Pena are spot-on. "Observe and Report" is a diabolical send up of authoritarian culture. (Warner Brothers) Rated R. 106 mins. (A )
Fast & Furious. Chris Morgan (screenwriter of "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”) is to blame for a script that runs more like a ’70s Ford Pinto than the hopped up muscle cars burning rubber onscreen. Original cast members Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, and Michelle Rodriquez are reunited with Crayon exposition about romantic and ethical mistakes they’ve made, as well as sticking plot points culled from the same coloring book. Badass undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Walker) is hot on the trail of an anonymous Mexican drug cartel leader who has also attracted the heat-seeking revenge of the more badass ex-con Dominic Toretto (Diesel). O’Conner and Toretto reluctantly team up to trap the elusive kingpin known only as Braga.
The plot holes are as big as the mountain tunnel that contains two of the film’s less-than-satisfying car chase scenes. For such a simple action/adventure template, the filmmakers fall down on the job at every turn. There’s no sustained suspense and only a few moments of truly exciting car racing to be had in a movie with a narrative flat line that substitutes for a dramatic arc. (Universal) Rated PG-13. 107 mins. (C-)
Adventureland. Nostalgia for a time that never was drives writer/director Greg Mottola’s ("Superbad") unassuming ’80s era coming-of-age romantic comedy. Jesse Eisenberg plays James Brennan, a virginal college graduate who foregoes a summer vacation to Europe because of his parents’ financial woes to work at Pittsburgh’s Adventureland amusement park. The only good thing about James’ game-booth job is the presence of his alluring coworker Em (Kristen Stewart) with whom James makes his first tentative steps toward developing a romantic relationship. James doesn’t know about Em’s sexually active bond with the park’s roving electrician (Ryan Reynolds) that serves as a narrative time bomb. Eisenberg and Stewart make movie magic happen, but the miscasting of Reynolds as an adulterous playboy puts a severe damper on the film. Like the confused social period of the Reagan era that the story inhabits, "Adventureland" is an awkward comedy that makes you wish it were a lot better. (Miramax) Rated R. 107 mins. (B-)
Duplicity. Writer/director Tony Gilroy (director of "Michael Clayton" and "The Bourne Ultimatum") runs his ship aground with a smarty-pants crime romance set amid the world of corporate espionage. Uber spies Ray (Clive Owen) and Claire (Julia Roberts) get themselves in deep when they decide to leverage their mutual distrust for one another as a foundation for a romantic relationship. The wrongheaded decision makes Ray, an ex-MI6 double-spy, and Claire, a former CIA agent, a double-double spy when it comes to stealing the formula for a mystery cream (or is it a lotion?) from a mega-corporation run by blow-hard megalomaniac Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson). Paul Giamatti plays Howard’s rival corporate raider, Dick Garsik, whose primary goal in life is to hear the sound of Howard’s cojones hitting the floor. With flashbacks, flash-forwards, and few flashes of inspiration, the movie flips around like a dying fish on a balsa wood boat dock. Sure Owen, Roberts, Giamatti and Wilkinson are all great to look at on the big screen, but that hardly makes "Duplicity" anything more than a barely watchable crime thriller where the biggest thrill is getting up from your seat when it’s finally over. (Universal) Rated PG-13. 118 mins. (C-)
Monsters vs. Aliens. Evidence that 3D animation is here to stay, "Monsters vs. Aliens" is a blast of eye-popping color and goofy characters that tips the scales a tad too far into violent realms to validate its purpose. A UFO lands in Modesto, Calif., on the day of hopeful bride Susan Murphy’s wedding, and the alien attack that follows presses the U.S. government into bringing out its best-kept security secret: Monsters. A 20,000-year-old half-fish/ half-ape called The Missing Link (Will Arnett), a gigantic furry bug named Insectasaurous, a mad scientist called Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D. (Hugh Laurie), a one-eyed blue gelatinous mass called B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), and the freshly grown 50-foot Susan, A.K.A. Ginormica (Reese Witherspoon), do battle with an army of four-eyed aliens led by Rain Wilson’s Gallaxhar. The writers smuggle in a promilitary subtext that intersects with a battle-of-the sexes theme played out between Susan and her once would-be husband, an ambitious TV broadcaster (Paul Rudd). Although good-humored, "Monsters vs. Aliens" doesn’t stir many laughs. But that’s not to say it’s not an amusing ride if you can get past the spoonfuls of social insinuation being fed to your little ones. (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) Rated PG. 98 mins. (B-)
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