Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: PG for some violence, mild crude and suggestive humor, and language
Running time: 91 min.
Cast: Kevin James, Jayma Mays, Keir O'Donnell, Raini Rodriguez, Shirley Knight, Stephen Rannazzisi, Peter Gerety, Bobby Cannavale, Adam Ferrara, Jamal Mixon, Adhir Kalyan, Erick Avari
Director: Steve Carr
Screenplay: Kevin James, Nick Bakay
If your idea of a fun time at the movies is about 90 minutes of nonstop fat jokes and tired slapstick, here's one for you to see.
Kevin James (Chuck & Larry, Barnyard) stars as the titular Paul Blart, a heavyset and very lonely suburban New Jersey mall security guard whose dreams of becoming a police officer are regularly dashed due to hypoglycemia and obesity. The bulk of his time is spent trying to quell disputes between sparring female shoppers and curbing the speed of octogenarians wheeling around on their motorized wheelchairs. During his rounds as the veteran guard, he meets a newcomer seller of hair extensions, Amy (Mays, Bruce & Lloyd), with whom he develops more than a mild crush on. Although his personal life is in a rut, Blart's mall job doesn't seem too tough to handle until a group of armed and dangerous criminals, who seem to excel in parkour and extreme sports, put the building on lockdown in search of credit card numbers. They've taken hostages as a bargaining chip, including Amy. Blart volunteers to be the sole "man inside" to try to "observe and report" for the surrounding law enforcement crews as to what's going on inside.
Paul Blart is akin to watching a John Candy film from the 1980s with the more modern Adam Sandler kitschy sensibilities. No surprise that Sandler serves as a producer for this film. The story is mostly plotless until the final half hour, whereby it becomes a jokester version of Die Hard, complete with high tech, bad ass bad guys with guns and hostages, and a mostly stealthy one-man army to take them all down. It's all played in a hammy fashion, as James is willing to engage in as much self-deprecating humor and physical pratfalls in order to get our laughter. It's directed by Steve Carr (Are We Done Yet?, Rebound), who has thus far made a career out of dumb sitcom premises full of juvenile humor and people falling on their asses in embarrassing ways.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop isn't a completely unwatchable movie, but it is very much like its main character -- an underachiever. It's a lazy film, trotting out the Sandler staples of late 70s and early 80s blue-collar rock (Eddie Money, Survivor, etc.), while the typical loser-finding-love-with-the-hot-babe scenario keeps things on the broadly predictable path. Although attempts are made to have fun with the mall setting, these attempts to be clever are too mild to find uproariously funny. Blart heads into an arcade and huffs it through a game involving a treadmill trying to jump the 110-meter hurdles to no avail. That same scene has Blart rocking out to KISS's "Detroit Rock City."
I will grant you that it has been some time since I've been in a mall arcade, but it seems to me that they wouldn't last long if their featured game belongs to a home console. I guess watching a fat guy rock out is supposed to be funny, but after seeing Jack Black do that shtick for years, whatever comedy gold is to be had has been mined out long ago. The constant bombardment of fat jokes will likely be difficult to endure for those with significant weight issues, but their offensiveness is tempered somewhat by the fact that Kevin James shares a screenwriter credit.
The film is rated PG and aims at a being a more family-friendly comedy than you would find in an Adam Sandler vehicle, but I wouldn't really classify it as a kids movie. There's a good deal of gunfire and comic violence in the final third, though by this point, we realize there's really not much danger in a story this predictable (think Home Alone), so there's really not anything scary or even thrilling about the hostage situation. Paul Blart plays for laughs only, and while it is innocuous to avoid being thoroughly detestable, there aren't nearly enough laughs to be had from easy food consumption potshots to its tubby hero (slathering peanut butter all over his pie, engaging is a nacho-eating competition, etc.) or in watching him cruise around on his Segway. Families with a low threshold to cross for entertainment may find it to be adequate escapist fare for a spell, but most others will find this rent-a-cop offering not worth a rental.
©2009 Vince Leo