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Ronnie Barnhardt lives with his alcoholic mother. He's chief security guard at Forest Ridge Mall, where he's in love with Brandi, a cosmetic sales clerk, and gets a free coffee each day from Nell, a cheery clerk in the food court. A flasher haunts the mall's parking lot, and at night, thefts occur. Ronnie is intent on catching the criminals but has no investigative skills, is delusional about his abilities, and makes mad accusations. His bête noire is Detective Harrison, the city cop sent to investigate. Ronnie thinks he could be an officer, thinks he stands a chance with Brandi, and slowly loses his self control. Will reality set in? What about redemption? Written by
I always knew the Judd Apatow crowd was of higher caliber than many others in their genre field. Even when they don't work under Apatow, there is real work, wit and earned laughs in what they do, and here is a film that is a perfect example of how elemental film techniques can make a movie funny. Music and slow motion work in favor of the main character's mindset, but the reactions of his surrounding characters are deadly opposite. He is delusional to the point that he is dangerous. At one point later, there is mention of his being a bipolar case, but not just to lend clarification to his behavior but more to ground him in a real-world everyman situation which makes his heroic, narcissistic delusions all the more unexpectedly genuine.
Seth Rogen's Ronnie Barnhardt exemplifies both the old-school hardass and the modern-day dumbass, and while he merely defends the domain of Forest Ridge Mall, he does so with an aggrandized self-image and the most brutal of temperaments. If it weren't for those bothersome psychological evaluations, he might even be a cop by now. Rather, he's an archetype of misled masculine vigor on a mission: to stop the flasher who has been threatening his territory.
One would imagine it'd be a light storyline, one convenient for the cheaper tendencies of SNL or MAD TV, yet Rogen and writer-director Jody Hill extract a subversively funny character study about a depraved man and his perverse perception of what it means to be a hero. In Ronnie's mind, to save the day means busting out the Taser with his sidekick, a speech-defective Michael Peña, by his side; to love a woman (Anna Faris, as funny and foul as ever) means essentially committing date rape. He is sexist and racist.
There's a good deal of immediate laughs to be had here, found in Ronnie's behavior with another character and how they're oblivious to each other in some way or another, or how Hard rock music and strutting slo-mo complement him while on-lookers are dumbfounded or confused or shocked. For example, Hill gives Ray Liotta his best role in awhile, sharply utilizing his intense temperament to make his character funny. But Hill appears more focused on getting under the skin and verging extremities in order to get a better grasp of who Ronnie is and why he behaves the way he does. Perhaps it's Ronnie's bipolar tendencies that propel the plot, leading our impassioned protagonist to a downfall and a warped idea of redemption. Ronnie isn't an antihero. He's a hero in his own mind and his own territory, and Rogen is more acutely committed to this performance than any before, leaping in with profundity and brooding. Therein lies the distinction between the bottom-feeding shenanigans of one Paul Blart and those of Ronnie Barnhardt.
The grandest indication that Rogen and Hill have scored something above average is when the authentic jolt and utter hilarity of a peak moment of violence reveals the stunner that everything had led up to that moment within reason, if only in Ronnie's line of reasoning. There is always something more rewarding about a comedy that achieves a careful tonal balancing act.
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