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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Observe and Report

2009 turned out to be the year of the ‘shopping mall security person’ comedy, and it shows you how fast trends turn over these days that there were only three months between the theatrical release dates separating the point where the genre was established, with Paul Blart: Mall Cop, a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release, and was then undercut in cynicism, withObserve and Report, a Warner Home Video release.

Paul Blart is far and away the better of the two films. In fact, it is highly entertaining and had a brilliant marketing plan that never even slightly gave away the major plot twist that takes up the film’s entire second half. As the trailers and commercials implied, the first half is a slapstick comedy about an overweight and seemingly hapless shopping mall security guard, played by Kevin James, whose romantic life is as bleak as his career prospects. The hero accidentally gets drunk one night and pretty much obliterates what was left of his reputation, and at that point you start to wonder how in the world the 91-minute film ever became a blockbuster hit. It is best not to share what happens next, because the surprise is part of the excitement, but the film, like the hero, does get its act together and delivers enough satisfaction to deserve every penny it earned.

From the title, which is part of a motto displayed prominently in Paul Blart, to innumerable other details,Observe and Report almost seems as if it had been made to deliberately upend the other film’s presumptions. Seth Rogen is yet another overweight and sincere but inept shopping mall security guard, with the same romantic and career problems that James’ character had. Rogen’s character, however, also has a taste for bloodlust, and tends to go overboard in executing his duties. There is a good deal of slapstick in the film, but where the humor in Paul Blart was broad and benign, the humor in Observe and Report is dry and perverse. Ray Liotta gives a marvelous performance as an actual cop whose patience is stretched to its limits by the hero’s misguided intentions. Running 87 minutes, there are a pair of nominal crimes in the film that give the narrative its structure, but they are treated secondarily and are less important than the efforts Rogen’s character makes to prove his legitimacy. If watched first in what ought to be a tempting double bill, the film will seem to set things up for the other movie effectively and, thanks to Liotta, provide a reasonable amount of satisfaction, but seen after the other movie, it will be an anti-climactic letdown, in which its nastier attributes will become all the more magnified.

The picture on Paul Blart is in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 1.85:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The color transfer looks fine and the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound is adequate. There is an alternate French track in 5.1 Dolby, optional English and French subtitles, 12 minutes of deleted scenes that would have slowed the film considerably, and 50 minutes of production featurettes that do a good job of emphasizing the many skateboard and BMX bike stunts in the film. There is also a commentary track with James and producer Todd Garner, who provide a relaxed but reasonably informative description of the shoot (such as how convenient it was to be working in a real mall with a real food court) and how the humor and the story were developed and adjusted as they went along.

The picture on Observe and Report is available in both letterboxed format, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback, and full screen format, which takes a little bit of picture information off of the sides and adds a little to the bottom of the screen. Again, the color transfer looks fine and the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound is passable. There are alternate French and Spanish tracks in 5.1 Dolby and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles, but no other features. The Blu-ray, on the other hand, comes with a jovial commentary track featuring Rogen, co-star Anna Farris and director Jody Hill, who also appear in a picture-within-a-picture at the bottom of the screen. There also 27 minutes of deleted scenes, an 8-minute segment of Rogen and Farris improvising a scene, 12 minutes of bloopers, and 10 minutes of bland promotional featurettes. A second platter is included that contains a copy of the film that can be downloaded onto handheld viewing devices.

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon