Can security learn anything from 'Observe and Report' movie?

Unlike the movie Paul Blart Mall Cop (see Martinez's review of Paul Blart Mall Cop), the April 10 release of Observe and Report (Warner Bros.), does not really open the door to a serious discussion about mall security. The movie, which writer/director Jody Hill admits is a comedy inspired by the dark film Taxi Driver, succeeds only in offending the audience.

Mall security can be a humorous topic for several reasons -- one of which is that everyone is familiar with the mall. We’ve all either worked there at some point doing loss prevention, security, or retail sales, or we’ve shopped there. And it’s amusing to poke fun at the familiar. Paul Blart Mall Cop did that very well.

However, in what feels like a recycled plot line, a security guard has to protect the people and property at the mall without actually having the knowledge, skills or authority to do so. It still could have been funny the second time around, but ‘Observe and Report’ doesn’t manage to pull it off.

In fact, instead of finding the real humor in mall security, the movie takes jabs at people with disabilities and calls that humor. It is the kind of movie which will be funny to the kind of person who might chuckle over a cartoon of a maimed Iraq war vet with the caption “Look, Ma, no hands.” For most of us, however, it’s simply offensive.

The main character, Ronnie Barnhardt, played by Seth Rogen, thinks he has everything under control in his own personal fiefdom at the shopping mall. He is totally clueless, however, and he is the last to recognize his cluelessness.

The movie centers around a flasher who traumatizes the object of Ronnie’s affections, Brandi the makeup girl (Anna Faris). The flasher seems to be a non-actor who decided it would be fun to run around exposing full frontal nudity to the director’s camera. But believe me, this is one guy that no one needs to see naked.

Ronnie desperately wants to find the flasher and save the day, a move which he think will make him the hero in Brandi’s eyes – the kind of hero he already is in his own mind. In the efforts to catch the flasher, he winds up head-to-head with Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), who finds Ronnie to be such a pain in the neck that he takes him to the worst part of town and dumps him there. It’s the classic stereotype of security officers vs. police. And as you might expect, there are a lot of cool fight scenes where Ronnie prevails, but they are, of course, totally unrealistic and it’s difficult for viewers to suspend disbelief for these scenes.

Shortly after a funny start to the movie, it grinds to a slow and painful halt. Not only do the jokes cease, but the viewer also finds out that Ronnie is actually mentally ill. He suffers from bipolar disorder and takes medication for it. Similarly, his mother, with whom he lives (big surprise there, right?), is an alcoholic who passes out on the floor each night, soiling herself. So far, its a real laugh riot.
As the movie progresses, Ronnie’s sidekick security guard Dennis (Michael Pena) turns out to be not only a crooked security guard, but he also is the guy who introduces Ronnie to snorting cocaine and mainlining drugs.

There is nothing credible about this film, and it doesn’t portray security guards realistically in the least. There are a lot of great guys and gals who work mall security, and while there may be a Ronnie or two among their ranks, by and large they do a good job given the limitations within which they must operate.

Observe and Report doesn’t do anyone a service; it doesn’t shed any interesting light on the world of retail security, and it’s not even humorous for most viewers. My advice is to save your money, and instead of paying to see this film, use the cash to buy yourself a treat at the mall instead.

About the author: Liz Martinez is a retail security expert and the author of the book "The Retail Manager's Guide to Crime and Loss Prevention." She can be contacted through her webpage or via e-mail at