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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
In January of 2009, critically reviled Kevin James vehicle Paul Blart: Mall Cop grossed over a hundred and forty million dollars domestically against a comparatively miniscule budget. The film turned James into an A-Lister, where he would go on to star in a bunch of even crappier movies than Blart. A catchy premise coupled with a fun marketing campaign helped propel the film into profitability after just its first weekend in theaters. The leggy film continued to dominate the box office in the weeks after its release, and a sequel has long been rumored (and is schedule to begin shooting in April of this year).
Just a few short months after Blart’s successful run, another mall cop film was released. Starring Seth Rogen and directed by Jody Hill, Observe and Report garnered slightly better reviews than Paul Blart (51% RT score vs. 33% RT score), but was met with almost total disinterest at the box office, where it failed to gross in its entire run what Blart did in just one weekend. The film ultimately reeled in just 26 million dollars in box office sales against a budget of 18 million – not a total disaster but not a profitable venture for Warner Bros. either. Observe and Report became Rogen’s second flop in a row (after 2008’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno). He wouldn’t star in a hit film again until 2013’s This is the End. The film also derailed Jody Hill’s directing career – he hasn’t made a film since. So, what exactly went wrong?
Described as “the dark mall cop movie,” Observe and Report featured complex and controversial film subject matter such as date rape (a still controversial scene features Rogen’s character having sex with a half conscious woman), full frontal male nudity, rampant drug abuse, and explicit language and violence – absolutely none of this was found in the family friendly (and PG-rated) Blart. And yet, the two were compared with each other ad nausea at the time, and many still remember Observe and Report as the failed mall cop movie from 2009. Also featuring in supporting roles Ray Liotta, Anna Faris, and Michael Pena, the film was also compared upon release to Martin Scorsese’s iconic Taxi Driver, with Rogen channeling the dark and twisted spirit of Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle.
I don’t think in this case that the marketing was to blame for the failure of Observe and Report. The ad campaign clearly marked it as being a much more mature film than Paul Blart. The R-rating alone should have been a huge indicator of that. Additionally, marketing for the film was everywhere. Nearly every movie I saw in early 2009 featured a trailer for the film, and advertisements ran over and over again online, particularly on Hulu. But still, people reacted as if Observe and Report was ripping off Blart wholesale (something similar happened two years ago when people accused Dredd of ripping off The Raid – a ridiculous notion considering film production and development).
A more likely scenario is that people flat-out rejected Observe and Report for its incredibly dark subject matter. People just generally don’t like black comedies. There is a long history of them failing at the box office. The only real example of a film with dark tendencies that succeeded at the box office was probably Horrible Bosses, and even that film was fairly light despite its dark premise, featuring characters that were likable despite their shortcomings. Observe and Report, like, for example, Very Bad Things before it, doesn’t feature characters likable and compelling enough to hold the interest of the general audience. I like this film a lot (Rogen gives his most mature and intense performance), but my tastes are an outlier here. The public largely rejected Observe and Report, and it is mostly remembered for being the other mall cop movie released in 2009.