A middle-aged Taekwondo instructor takes his job too seriously while his life outside the workplace is falling apart, mainly his marriage. A mall cop with bipolar disorder who takes his job too seriously is set on catching a flasher in order to validate his uneventful existence. Do either premises sound like comedies? Well, it doesn't matter because Jody Hill has taken tragic characters, Fred Simmons (Danny McBride) and Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen), and made their lives into two, hilarious under-appreciated films: The Foot Fist Way and Observe and Report.
Danny McBride's tragic character, Fred Simmons, in the low-budget 2006 black comedy The Foot Fist Way supposedly has it all together. He runs his own dojang in a small North Carolina town where he's the man. He's a 4th-degree black belt, always has plenty of wisdom to pass along to his students, he drives a Ferrari, and has a smoking hot wife. Fred Simmons' life is great-until his wife cheats on him at her new job.
What makes The Foot Fist Way work in all its dark humor is McBride's brilliant performance. He does a great job of balancing a man who's perception of himself is a little one-sided and a man who no longer has the answers. He awkwardly hits on a young female student of his, arguably lashes out on his adolescent apprentice Julio (Spencer Moreno in a very under-appreciated role), and discovers his idol (B-movie star Chuck "The Truck" Wallace) is a drunken, drug-addicted mess.
Unlike a typical comedy where everything ends "mega-happy," things never really take a turn for the better in Fred's life. A scene where he yells at himself in the mirror trying to get it together is both hilarious and horrifying at the same time.
Tone-wise, The Foot Fist Way does a suffer a bit as Jody Hill does the best he can, mixing the tragedies of life with his own unique humor on a minimal budget. The film was only made on a budget of $79,000 and paved the way for Hill's next film which did an even more phenomenal job of using black comedy.
Observe and Report, in my opinion came out at the wrong time. It came out around the same time as surprise box-office hit Paul Blart: Mall Cop, a much more light-hearted, family-friendly comedy that miraculously got a sequel despite it being a movie where the main punchline was Kevin James being fat. Audiences just weren't too warm to the idea of a mall cop with bipolar disorder set out to catch a pervert being a comedy.
The factor which makes Observe and Report a superior film to The Foot Fist Way is the hilarious cast of supporting characters surrounding Seth Rogen's performance as Ronnie Barnhardt. You got Ronnie's right-hand man Dennis (the hysterical Michael Pena, you might know him from Ant-Man), who always takes Ronnie's side despite the outlandishness of it. Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) plays a hot shot, assh*le detective placed on the pervert case who naturally clashes with Ronnie. Anna Faris (Scary Movie) plays the superficial Brandy who doesn't have much personality but is still pursued by Ronnie anyway. Celia Weston is perfect as Ronnie's alcoholic mom. And there's a bunch of other cameos by comedy veterans including Jesse Plemons, Aziz Ansari, Patton Oswalt, and Danny McBride.
The A-plus cast really help prevent the film from getting too dark, but general audiences still have plenty to be discomforted by. Police brutality, casual racism, date rape, psychological disorder, and theft are all topics dealt with in just an 87 minute running time.
Seth Rogen's Ronnie Barnhardt is very similar to Danny McBride's Fred Simmons in The Foot Fist Way. He's over-confident, over-zealous, and gets on almost everyone's nerves. Unlike Fred Simmons however, Observe and Report is less about Ronnie's downward plummet and more about his pursuit for justice in his own, twisted world. And Jody Hill's style of humor works better with this film as the film maintains a more consistent tone and not to mention a kick ass soundtrack.
Jody Hill also created and worked for the HBO comedy series Eastbound and Down. He's currently developing a new HBO series called Vice Principals which stars Danny McBride and Walton Goggins. Hill's unique comedy works no matter what he's working on and it appears that he has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.