“I do it, so other people can sleep well at night, meanwhile, I’m up all night fighting demons, just screaming bloody murder, waking up with nosebleeds, night terrors, finding myself a mile from home with bloody feet and a gun in my hand I have no idea how I got there, but pound for pound, I’d say there’s not one human being in this mall that deserves this coffee as much as myself. ” — Ronnie Barnhardt
Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogan), head of mall security, is a man with a dream. A dream to become a police officer. As head of mall security, he’s a big fish in a small pond and is hoping to leap out to better things. There are some problems with this though: Ronnie is a bi-polar that lives with his alcoholic mother and suffers from serious delusions of grandeur. When a flasher begins appearing on his turf, Ronnie makes it a personal mission to validate his worth by bringing him to justice, and impressing the make-up counter girl/victim Brandi (Anna Faris).
The biggest obstacle he faces is Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta), a real cop, who is investigating the flasher as well. The friction between the two reaches a head when a robber hits up the mall in what looks to be an inside job, which again brings Harrison to Ronnie’s yard. Harrison tries to tolerate Ronnie’s antics, which include blaming foreigners that work at the mall for the crime (one of whom, played by Aziz Ansari, has a restraining order against Ronnie, which doesn’t make any sense because then Ronnie wouldn’t be able to work in the mall, but whatever). Harrison blows up on Ronnie, deservedly so, but is very harsh on him calling him a “retard” and telling Ronnie how much he hates him.
Ronnie then decides to apply at the police stations recruitment office to join the ranks, and learns he has the right to a ride-a-long with an officer of his choice. Guess who he chooses? Harrison takes Ronnie out to a crackhead neighborhood, talks Ronnie into patrolling the neighborhood, and leaves Ronnie there to die….but things don’t quite turn out that way as Ronnie beats the crap out of some Hispanic gang-bangers, whose leader is none other than Danny McBride (who plays the lead on Jody Hill’s TV show Eastbound and Down).
This marks the turning point of the film where we see Ronnie isn’t just a blow-hard, he can actually cause some serious damage. After getting Brandi to give him a date, he decides to go off his medication. Then things get really crazy as we watch Ronnie crash and burn.
Jody Hill has a weird way of making these really unlikeable characters and putting the audience on their side. He does this by putting them against people who are worse than they are. We understand where Harrison is coming from with his aggravation with Ronnie but the emotional punishment (and later physical) he dishes out on him are uncalled for, especially since we know about Ronnie’s mental short-comings. Because of this, we want Ronnie to succeed, even though there isn’t much hope for that.
This is a movie for brave film-goers who don’t mind a movie that changes genres with reckless abandon. Hill brings a punk rock mindset to the film. On one hand it’s really funny seeing Seth Rogan play the usual man-child role, but Hill grounds him in a reality here that shows just how dark that character can be. It’s been described as a comedic version of Taxi Driver, and that’s about right. The laughs come from how uncomfortable the situations are as we watch a bi-polar mama’s boy who is obsessed with guns wanting to impose his will on others in a desperate mission to validate his existence to the world by showing them he can achieve his dreams. It doesn’t help that he is egged on by his drunken mother (Celia Weston) who tells him he could possibly be President of the US, or that he surrounds himself with sycophants on his mall security force. On the other hand, Harrison and the police force treat him like crap, antagonizing him to greater acts of craziness. At a certain point, it becomes clear that Ronnie isn’t delusional about his disorder; it’s more like denial. He’s painfully aware of what he is, and doesn’t want to be that guy, but his reach exceeds his grasp. Our sympathies are divided since we, as compassionate human beings, want him to be ok, and the fact that he really cares about his mom. The movie never makes it clear who is living with whom, but it shows that Ronnie is the one taking care of her since she has her substance abuse issues.
The only person who sees Ronnie as a real person to be genuinely be cared about is Nell (Collette Wolfe, Hill’s wife), the counter-girl at the Toast-a-Bun shop who takes a liking to Ronnie. She’s a born-again Christian with a broken leg who tries to encourage and help Ronnie to embrace and accept who he is, while at the same time putting up with her abusive manager (Patton Osawalt) who makes fun of her for her broken leg. She’s the only character in the film that isn’t played for laughs and acts as the heart of a movie that otherwise wouldn’t have one.
It’s a strange movie full of some seriously disturbing thematic content that tricks us into thinking it’s a comedy (though to be fair, quite a bit is very funny). Anyone who has ever worked in a mall can relate to it, there are people like those in the film who work in them. For example, when I worked at Chick-Fil-A, I had a mall security guy who served in the military hand me a live grenade one night as I was closing. To this day, I’m not sure if it was real or not, but I’m really glad I didn’t follow my initial response to the situation by throwing it into the food court.
I’m a big fan of Jody Hill’s stuff, and I have designated this week “Jody Hill Week” in honor of the season finale of Eastbound and Down. If you haven’t seen this film or Eastbound and Down, give it a go. Hill is a very crazy guy with a group of collaborators just as insane as he is making some very seriously demented black comedies that you should be watching.
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