There's something good buried underneath what's on screen in the new Seth Rogen movie Observe and Report.
Rogen is a very funny guy in the midst of a screen identity crisis. That's because what he has going for him — an every-guy persona making dirty jokes palatable — is being mutated into something completely different with every success.
He can be a pudgy, raunchier Woody Allen for ordinary Joes, or a leaner, meaner Green Hornet (which he's making). But he can't be both, and somewhere in between like Observe and Report is a dead end.
Observe and Report catches Rogen at that point where he doesn't have any ideas left from his chronic adolescence, like Superbad and Pineapple Express, that he could sell relatively cheap, through his Judd Apatow connections and play to full, if limited, potential. So, he's going with other people's material that strikes some chord in his arrested development to make up the money someone else made with his ideas because they made a better deal.
Observe and Report writer-director Jody Hill had the same kind of overnight success with The Foot Fist Way, a movie just as crude and cruel as his latest. Hill's situation isn't as bothersome as Rogen's since he hasn't banked much money yet, and a studio was willing to throw some his way for doing the same thing that caught their attention. If Hill eventually sells out, or like Rogen becomes annoyingly ubiquitous with increasingly transparent skills, I'll address that, too.
For now, Rogen needs to lay lower than he has, so when he tries something off the grid like Observe and Report, it won't blindside his core following. It would help if the movie weren't touted as another dirty little lark but the dark, occasionally brooding psycho-comedy it is.
Rogen has a right to expand his horizons, like Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler have attempted, usually leaving fans behind. That's a risk they took, knowing it would probably happen. Rogen (and the studio milking his popularity) wants it both ways. Selling one thing and delivering another is a good way to lose business.