Harold and Kumar, please come home, all is forgiven. Who would have believed that comedy commander Judd Apatow, the brains behind Pineapple Express, Knocked Up, Superbad, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and other licenses to print money would find it necessary to make a satirical political laff riot about the now-condemned US detention center at Guantanamo? But that's exactly what he did. Observe and Clobber is a mindblower in more ways than one, but it could have used a few more actual, like, jokes.
Apatow's go-to everyslob Seth Rogen stars as Dustin LaFlamme, an army MP sergeant in charge of a section of suspected Al Qaeda terrorists. We've seen Rogen in this sort of role before — he's the classic underachiever, a bright but insecure guy forever taking a job as a barista or video store clerk while writing the Great American Novel or something.
But in Observe and Clobber, writer-director Apatow and the newly slimmed-down Rogen (did he get a face-lift?) pull a switcheroo. Redneck Dustin is probably the dumbest grunt on screen since Taxi to the Dark Side, a mental midget who takes pleasure in tormenting his prisoners. For him, using psy-war techniques on the detainees — like playing Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" 24/7 at earsplitting volume — is a valid step up the employment ladder. You think you hate Lauper now? Wait till you've sat through the movie.
The film's biggest guffaws come from the inmates. The idea seems to be: With enemies like this, America has nothing to worry about. Main man among the suspected terrorists is Hisham, played by an unusually subdued Sacha Baron Cohen as a sort of lounge lizard version of Osama bin Laden. Naturally, he's plotting a breakout. Wad (Richard "Cheech" Marin) and Hadidan (Thomas Chong) are a pair of Beirut taxi drivers renditioned essentially for shortchanging the US ambassador every day for a year. Wad and Hadidan's gags are pretty much what we'd expect — they get high on weed smuggled into the prison and complain that the women's underwear they're forced to wear on their heads didn't come from Natalie Portman. "Wait till the war crimes tribunal hears about this, man," shouts Hadidan.
The real source of the primo grass and the panties is Debra (Rosie Perez), in the Lynndie England role as a veteran prison guard who gets her kicks messing with the "haji" inmates. Nobody can make lines like "Suck on this, raghead motherfucker" sound dirtier than Perez does. Also good as Debra's assistant Jen is Kristen Bell (Fanboys), who never tumbles to the realization that Hisham, Wad, and Hadidan actually like it that she forces them to lick her feet.
Speaking of bootlickers, hats off to Apatow for writing cameos for Steve Carell and Richard Dreyfuss as stand-ins for Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney (the action is set in 2005), who arrive for an inspection visit and stay to get drunk and sing Nazi marching songs with the warden, Col. Butz (the always dependable J.K. Simmons). Cheney is getting to be a habit for Dreyfuss after W.
A funny thing happened to borderline-irritating docutainment jester Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?) on the way to making his latest film, Homeless Like Me, a remarkably candid and amazingly smirk-free TV-news-style ride-along documenting his experiences as a homeless man for three months. The three months turned out to be only the beginning.
First, Spurlock really lost all his money. About half of it went down the drain with financial hustler Bernard Madoff (Spurlock was an early Madoff investor, but not quite early enough); a large chunk of it got invested in Homeless Like Me when the film's deal with the Weinstein Company fell through (they got cold feet); and the rest, in the words of Georgie Best, he just squandered. It's a long story, but then that's one of the things Spurlock learned hanging out in homeless shelters and vacant lots in Houston; Seattle; Baltimore; and Dayton, Ohio — when it comes to losing your home and livelihood, one thing leads to another.
Half the film features Spurlock, wearing the same Old Navy hoodie and camo army jacket, getting the originally planned "first-person" story: lining up for free meals, spare-changing abusive teenagers, and trying to keep his vintage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sleeping bag clean while bunking down outdoors. It's hard work being homeless, but Spurlock seems as if he's handling it okay.
Then there's a six-month gap in the story line, during which, as Spurlock explains, his investments tanked, his wife divorced him, both his homes were foreclosed on, his film company went bankrupt, and he was forced to hit the skids for real without a camera on him.
The doc picks up another nine months later with Spurlock — in brand new sweats, with financial backing and a new crew paid for by Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan government — retracing his steps in the same places he visited in the film's opening half and essentially atoning for being such a condescending asshole in the first place. As he dives into a fast-food Dumpster searching for pizza rinds and sodas, the expression on Spurlock's face speaks volumes. It's hard to believe, he admits, that he once put on 25 pounds eating junk food as a movie stunt. "I'd take a clean, wrapped Big Mac any time," he sighs. "I'd kiss it. I'd make love to it." It's not really what we want from Spurlock. His forte is glibness and superficiality, not pathos.
Maudlin as it is, Homeless Like Me ends with an appropriately pithy epilogue. Spurlock has taken a new job at the not-for-profit he founded, again with Venezuelan oil money (Michael Moore reportedly turned him down). He's making training films for an environmentally friendly chain of pupusa eateries and has become an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church. His next film project is How to Go Around the World for Free, the epic journey of a discarded plastic bag from Miami Beach to Bangladesh via the ocean currents.
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