Sony // 2009 // 91 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 19th, 2009
Don't mess with his mall!
"I need sugar."
Paul Blart (Kevin James, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry) is a man who dreams of one day being a successful member of the local police department. Unfortunately, his hypoglycemia and lack of physical fitness prevent him from being able to pass the physical examinations required to get a better job. So, poor Paul is stuck working as a security guard at a local mall. Even so, he makes the best of it and takes his job far more seriously than any of his co-workers. No other mall cop is bold enough to hand out citations to people moving through the mall in a reckless manner.
Paul is a single father who lives with his mother (Shirley Knight, Grandma's Boy) and daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody). They both care about Paul a great deal, and they think it's time for him to consider finding a new love interest. Paul reluctantly agrees, and the very next day he finds himself developing a strong crush on a co-worker named Amy (Jayma Mays, Epic Movie). Paul isn't particularly eloquent or even competent when it comes to approaching a woman in a romantic manner, but Amy finds him sweet and appealing nonetheless. Just when things are finally starting to look up for Paul, something shocking happens. A group of violent thugs take over the mall and hold several shoppers and employees (including Amy) hostage. All of the security guards flee and wait for the S.W.A.T. Team to arrive. Well, all but one: Paul Blart. Can he save the day?
Paul Blart: Mall Cop is more or less precisely what you would expect it to be. Produced by Adam Sandler and created by kiddie-flick director Steve Carr, the film offers a fairly predictable blend of slapstick comedy, sticky sentiment, and over-the-top action. The film plays like a parallel universe version of this year's R-rated Seth Rogen flick Observe and Report. The similarities are uncanny: an out-of-shape individual who dreams of becoming a cop but instead has to work as a mall security guard? Check. A sweet romantic relationship with a co-worker? Check. An absurd situation that causes the protagonist to feel compelled to take violent action against criminals? Check. The only real difference is the tone. Observe and Report offers a nervy and darkly funny character study, while Paul Blart: Mall Cop goes for cheap and easy family-friendly laughs.
The film feels very much like a Sandler production, all the way down to a blaring tune from the Electric Light Orchestra accompanying an opening scene. Kevin James has a much different screen presence than Sandler, but the character is written in a similar manner. He's a dim-witted man-child masking an easily wounded persona with all sorts of awkwardly goofy behavior. He also has a tendency to get into preposterous situations that go much too far in an attempt to grab cheap laughs. For instance, there is a moment in which Paul Blart is called to the Victoria's Secret store in the mall to resolve a conflict between two women. They're both fighting over the last push-up bra in the store (yeah, right, like that's going to happen in Victoria's Secret). There are many funny ways the conflict could go, but the film takes an annoying one. Blart winds up engaging in physical combat with an overweight woman (whose shirt gets removed during the conflict for "comedic" effect).
Speaking of such things, the film has a predictable reliance on tedious fat jokes. It attempts to make the audience swing both ways in terms of their feelings towards Blart, mean-spiritedly asking us to laugh jeeringly at his weight on regular occasions and then demanding that we feel bad for the poor guy because people make fun of him. Asking an audience to simultaneously cheer for someone's demise and success is not a good proposal, and it obviously doesn't work here. The worst scenes in the film are those that attempt to milk humor out of Blart's weight. See the fat man attempt to win a nacho eating competition! See the fat man try to play a video game requiring lots of physical activity and failing miserably! See the fat man's belly shake in close-ups!
Elsewhere, the schmaltz gets laid on pretty thick. The "Blart is sad" scenes are underscored with shamelessly treacly music from Waddy Wachtel, and accompanied with dialogue exchanges that sound likes rejected proposals for Hallmark cards. The romantic scenes between Blart and Amy are fairly one-sided, as actress Jayma Mays seems to have been instructed to, "stand there and look pretty while Paul Blart acts all crazy." She has not a single interesting line or amusing moment in the entire film. She is an attractive and kind-looking woman, and that is all the screenplay asks her to be. Meanwhile, Blart generally makes a fool of himself when approaching her, creating scenes that shout, "Love me! Love me! See how wacky and cute and ridiculous I am?"
I'm not even going to make an attempt to deconstruct the action that occurs in the second half of the film, which is illogical and poorly-conceived at every turn. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, these cops n' robbers must be the least intelligent or well-trained members of their respective types that exist. No wonder ol' Paul Blart manages to save the day...oops, spoiler alert.
The transfer here is just fine, offering a pleasantly colorful and vibrant image that offers an acceptable level of detail. The audio is a bit less frantic than you might expect an action-comedy like this one to be, but it gets the job done with clarity. Extras are surprisingly generous here. First up, a large batch of featurettes. "Kevin James: Mall Cop" (5 minutes) allows James to briefly offer a description of his character, "Action Sports Junkies" (6 minutes) focuses on the stunts, "Stunts" (10 minutes) offers a slightly more technical examination of the stunt work, "The Mall" (4 minutes) examines the setting of the film, "On Set With Mike 'Rooftop' Escamilla" (5 minutes) offers viewers a chance to see Escamilla practicing stunts, "Fun on Set" (6 minutes) features all the actors talking about how much they love each other, "Mike V. vs. Mall Cop" (2 minutes) is a throwaway bit featuring skateboard stunts, "Mall Cop Response" (2 minutes) is another brief bit with James in character, "Free Running vs. Parkour" (3 minutes) offers even more stunts, "Thoughts With Kevin James" (2 minutes) is just a few additional bits from the star, and "Sugar" (2 minutes) is one final stunt sequence shot with actual customers shopping in the mall. All of this is impossibly lightweight, but it's a generous batch. You also get a feature commentary with Kevin James and producer Todd Garner (both of whom are pleasant guys who are easy to listen to) and a few deleted scenes.
Despite the way the screenplay constantly pushes him in nonsensical situations that contradict his character, I actually kind of like Paul Blart. Kevin James has a naturally appealing screen presence. Unfortunately, it remains a screen presence that has been largely wasted in lousy big screen comedies. Give the man a decent role and I'm betting he can do good things.
Eh, if this is your cup of tea, have at it, but I'm not going to recommend it. Frankly, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is pretty tired '90s sitcom material.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes