PAUL BLART: MALL COP (2009)
Starring Kevin James, Jayma Mays, Keir O'Donnell, Bobby Cannavale, Stephen Rannazzisi, Shirley Knight, Raini Rodriguez, Peter Gerety, Adam Ferrara, Jamal Mixon, Adhir Kalyan, Erick Avari, Gary Valentine and Allen Covert.
Screenplay by Kevin James and Nick Bakay.
Directed by Steve Carr.
Distributed by Columbia Pictures. 87 minutes. Rated PG.
I'm in a very odd position for a movie reviewer. Less than a week ago I did a pretty negative review of Slumdog Millionaire – the critical darling of the moment – in which I had to acknowledge that I just didn't really like it.
Now I am writing a review of an Adam Sandler-produced formula comedy called Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which has and deserves no real critical notice and damned if I'm not going to give it a relatively good review.
This can't be a good sign. I may have to leave my critic's credentials at the door.
Obviously, that is not to say that Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a better movie than Slumdog Millionaire. It lays no claim to any kind of artistic sweep or deep meaning. Paul Blart: Mall Cop is merely a silly comedy, sometimes smart and sometimes very stupid, but it has heart and a bit of soul. Its aims are much more modest, and it does a better job of finding its own water level. Also, on the high vs. lowbrow scale, Paul Blart: Mall Cop was not the one of these two films that showed one of its characters covered head to toe in feces. Fact is, even if it was not as well-made a movie, just on a gut level, I enjoyed Mall Cop more than I did its more acclaimed cousin. So, sue me.
I honestly didn't have high hopes for Paul Blart. Star and co-screenwriter Kevin James was hysterical on his long-lived series The King of Queens and stole the cute romantic comedy Hitch from his better-known co-star Will Smith. However, somewhere along the line, James hooked up with Adam Sandler, who used James in small roles in a couple of bad films, before co-starring him in the completely unwatchable I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.
Sandler is back behind the scenes here, mostly as a money man, though. The writing was done by James and Nick Bakay (the sportscaster-turned-comic who may be best known for the brilliant voicing of Salem the cat on the 90s TV series Sabrina: The Teenaged Witch.) You do feel Sandler's influence in spots: the goofy jokes, the gratuitous hurting of small animals, the mindless action sequences, the soppy 80s power ballads (though you do have to respect a movie that would use Survivor's "I Can't Hold Back" - not once but twice!).
However, greatly due to James' likability as an actor and a sad sack, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a rather clever and good hearted parody of the Die Hard series in which a normal man alone must take on a deadly criminal gang who has taken a building hostage.
Of course, unlike Bruce Willis, James' character isn't a decorated cop who is infiltrating a skyscraper – he is a rent-a-cop at a fictional mall in West Orange, New Jersey. It's not for lack of trying, Blart has been trying to get into the police for years, but his weight, lack of coordination and hypoglycemia (he passes out if he doesn't get any sugar every few hours) have kept him from the force.
Instead, he patrols the stores on his segway, taking his law-enforcing responsibilities as seriously as any policeman, despite the fact that he is mocked by employees and the customers. Blart is also lovelorn, left by his Mexican bride (she just wanted a green card, but did give him a daughter), living with that daughter and his mother and getting nearly desperate enough to try internet dating. He has fallen for a woman (Jayma Mays) who sells hair extensions at one of the mall's kiosks, but he is too shy to tell her. Then, when he meets her out with other employees, he ends up making a fool of himself.
Life has convinced Blart he is a loser, however when the mall is attacked – and people, including his crush, are being held hostage, Blart has to snap into action. Of course the action is mostly comic – Paul Blart is mostly a film for kids, so the violence is mostly downplayed and cartoonish – all the better to keep the PG rating. However, James' enthusiastic and good humored portrayal is reminiscent of John Candy's characters of overweight but completely optimistic losers.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop will not be honored on Oscar night – even in the technical categories – and that is as it should be. The movie has no pretentions to being anything other than a goofy kids' comedy, and thanks to its strong central performance it succeeds surprisingly well.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 14, 2009.