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'Observe and Report'

Not your usual Seth Rogen yuk-it-up, "Observe and Report" aims less for guffaws and more for gasps. It's a far cry from such Rogen vehicles as the sentimental "Knocked Up" or even the edgy " Pineapple Express." Its closest cousin, in fact, is Martin Scorsese's hellishly violent "Taxi Driver."

Writer-director Jody Hill ( "The Foot Fist Way") uses that film as an inspiration for this off-balance comedy about Ronnie Barnhardt (Rogen), a mall security guard with certifiable delusions of grandeur. Like Robert De Niro's cab-driving Travis Bickle, Ronnie has lousy social skills, a gun fetish and a worrisome obsession with a pretty blonde - in this case, a trashy cosmetics clerk fittingly named Brandi ( Anna Faris, "The House Bunny").

When shoppers fall prey to an old-fashioned flasher - shoes, socks, trench coat - Ronnie sees a chance to play the crime-busting hero. But when a real cop (an unnerving Ray Liotta) takes the case, Ronnie's dreams - and his entire personality - disintegrate. It turns out Ronnie is "a little bipolar," and he's chosen the wrong time to go off his meds.

What follows is a movie so surreal that it could exist inside Ronnie's addled head. Slapstick gives way to savagery; rock songs blare out of nowhere. In one montage, Ronnie and a co-worker (Michael Peña, a serious actor miscast as a lisping hip-hopper) go on a rampage that begins as a farce but devolves into a nightmare. The only bright spot is this world is Nell (Collette Wolfe), the coffee cashier with an inexplicable soft spot for our semi-hero.

"Observe and Report" is a fearlessly weird comedy - possibly too fearless. Though Rogen makes Ronnie basically likable, his character often seems uncomfortably close to becoming another gunman in the headlines. Be prepared for the laughs to stick in your throat.

PLOT A delusional mall-cop battles the actual cops in his zeal to capture a local flasher.

CAST Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Ray Liotta


PLAYING AT Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE For better or worse, the weirdest, wildest comedy of the year so far.


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