It's undeniable that Observe and Report is a better movie than Paul Blart: Mall Cop. But it's also strange how many similarities there are between the two movies, despite all of Warner Bros. efforts to tell us that they have nothing to do with each other. Yes, Observe and Report is a wicked and deranged satire of American masculinity, while Paul Blart is that movie you went to with your parents when nothing else was playing in January. But they're both working off the same template, the same general idea of "Whoah, mall cops sure are funny," and in some ways draw the same conclusions about their pitiful characters.
Below are 10 ways in which Observe and Report is exactly like Paul Blart, from major characters to the grand finale. And before you start writing me hate mail, stick around for 5 much more important reasons that Observe and Report is completely unlike that other mall cop movie, and brilliant movie in and of itself. Just proof that from the same basic premise and characters, two hugely different movies have emerged.
SPOILER WARNING The last two items on the list of 10 are spoilers for Observe and Report, although minor ones. You've been warned.
10 Ways Observe And Report And Paul Blart Are Alike
1. The fat guy living with his fat mom who pities him.
It's not just the mall cop careers that make Paul Blart and Ronnie Barnhardt seem so similar. Both obviously struggle with their weight, and both live with their equally overweight moms, who are supportive and maybe a little overbearing and, in Ronnie's case, a huge mess.
2. The silly two-wheeled vehicle used for transportation.
Paul rides a Segway both in the mall and out, a cheap joke that's used way too many times. Ronnie rides a white Honda motorcycle, which is left as a subtle jab never mentioned by the characters. At the mall Ronnie has an equally-ridiculous ride, a white egg-shaped golf cart, but since it has four wheels, it doesn't count.
3. The archnemesis working outside the mall with more power.
Paul Blart's rival is a SWAT team agent and former high school classmate played by Bobby Cannavale, brought in at the end to handle the robbery in progress. Ronnie's is a much bigger character played by Ray Liotta, a cop who is just as power-mad and maybe deranged as Ronnie, but just does a better job at keeping his cool.
4. The jokes about mall cops not actually having guns.
Probably the one shared joke between the two movies is one about having to pretend you have a gun even though you're not allowed one. Apparently this is a pretty universal mall cop gripe.
5. The pretty girl crush who works in cosmetics in the mall.
For Paul, it's weave salesgirl Amy, played by a very bland but very pretty Jayma Mays. For Ronnie, it's makeup salesgirl Brandi, played by a batshit crazy but also very pretty Anna Faris.
6. The night out drinking that ends badly, sorta.
Paul Blart doesn't really drink, so when he goes out with the other mall workers and downs a margarita before he knows what it is, the night ends in some embarrassing karaoke and falling through a plate glass window. Brandi, on the other hand, is an experienced drinker and pill-taker, but that doesn't stop her from getting just as hammered as Paul does. And while Paul makes a connection with his dream girl while drinking (but before falling through the window), Ronnie gets some face time with the lady as well (before she falls asleep while they're having sex.)
7. The rivalry with one other mall employee.
Paul is constantly teased by a guy working at the bank named Stuart. Ronnie has an ongoing "fuck you" battle with Saddam, who works at the lotion kiosk.
8. The police training montage.
Both Paul and Ronnie really want to be real cops, and while Paul's dream ends in the first scene when he flunks out of the obstacle course, Ronnie hits training halfway through the movie, and is actually pretty good at it. It's the psychological profile that'll get you, though.
9. The right-hand man who turns out to be a thief.
At the end of Paul Blart it turns out that--gasp!-- the new cop trainee was helping the robbers all along! About three-quarters of the way through Observe and Report, it turns out that the sidekick played by Michael Pena-- gasp!-- is a robber too.
10. The final showdown in the beloved mall.
At the end both Paul and Ronnie have to protect their own turf against invading hordes, and they're the only men for the job. For Paul, this is because he's literally the only person in the mall who hasn't been taken hostage. For Ronnie, it's because he's a complete psychopath.
And 5 Ways They Couldn't Be More Different
1. The tone. You'll be reading a lot about tone in Observe and Report, how it swings wildly between flat-out comedy and brutal darkness, and how depending on who you are, it's either a rousing success or completely disturbing. Whereas Paul Blart, of course, is straight-down-the-line mainstream comedy. Despite the bizarrely similar plot points, Observe and Report sets out its own path early on and only gets weirder from there.
2. Attitude toward its characters. Much like Jody Hill's first film, The Foot Fist Way, Observe and Report takes an indulgent but highly critical look at its middle-class characters. There's nothing necessarily wrong with driving a crappy car or working a crappy service job or taking too much pride in your miniscule power, but then again, every one of these characters is deranged in some way or another. I don't think I need to explain to you that Paul Blart's approach to its "characters" is pretty much as chess pieces to move around its happy, shiny set.
3. Where the story actually goes. Paul Blart's story goes in a pretty typical direction, right down to the completely predictable double-crosses and the climactic kiss at the end. In Observe and Report, though, you honestly have no idea where things will go between one scene and another, and multiple moments get nothing from the audience but stunned silence. It's remarkable that a movie can actually be that shocking in 2009.
4.Observe and Report is a satire. This goes back to that whole "not a mainstream comedy" thing, but the new mall cop movie is taking the notion of a gunless cop and using it to parody the armed and dangerous machismo of modern America. Paul Blart is a poor schlub who couldn't cut it as a real cop; Ronnie Barnhardt is a poor schlub who has been conditioned by his culture to think walking around armed and dangerous is the only way to be a real man.
5. There are actual guns in Observe and Report. Real-life mall cops must stick to their tasers and nightsticks, but Ronnie Barnhardt gets his firearms in the end.