Paul Blart: Mall Cop

(2009) * Pg
91 min. Sony Pictures Releasing. Director: Steve Carr. Cast: Kevin James, Keir O'Donnell, Raini Rodriguez, Adhir Kalyan, Jayma Mays.

/content/films/3313/2.jpgThe PG-rated comedy/atrocity Paul Blart: Mall Cop—from Adam Sandler's Happy Madison Productions—betrays its commerical compromise in its name. The hero is named for a disgusting bodily function that's hardly PG material, but the movie itself seems to be aimed at grade schoolers. I can't in good conscience call the new Kevin James vehicle "family-friendly," though: there's nothing friendly about the lame-brained plot and attempted jokes. Blart pronounces, "Safety never takes a holiday," but I'll tell you what does: taste.

It would seem likeable comic and sitcom star James set his sights low in taking the role of Blart, a hypoglycemic security guard for the West Orange Pavilion Mall, unless and until you realize that James co-wrote the script (with Nick Bakay). Blart is the saddest of sad sacks: an overweight single father living with his mother (Shirley Knight) and daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez). He eats when he's depressed, and he's depressed a lot. Blart is clinging to two dreams: to pass the exam to join the New Jersey State Police, and to find Miss Right. We see Blart fail at the first in the film's opening sequence (a hypoglycemia-induced nap fells him at the finish line), and he warily pusues the second when he signs up for a dating website at the behest of the women in his life.

Another opportunity arises when Blart catches the eye of Amy (Jayma Mays), the girl at the "Unbeweaveable" wig kiosk. Unfortunately, Blart accidentally drinks on an evening out with Amy and (curse that hypoglycemia!) comes across as a sloppy, creepy mess. By-the-book Blart has no more luck impressing his new trainee Veck Sims (Keir O'Donnell), who immediately recognizes the inherent impotence of the job. Chief Brooks (Peter Gerety of Homicide) reminds the partners their job is not to investigate and arrest but to "detect, deter, observe, report"—and, indeed, mall cops are unarmed and therefore prone to mocking disrepect from mallrats of all shapes and sizes.

The, um, poo-poo hits the fan on "the biggest shopping day of the year": Black Friday. Suddenly, the mall is under siege by skateboarding goons (sure sign of a bad movie: criminals who double as extreme-sports athletes—c.f. Batman and Robin), and only an overlooked Blart can save the hostages, including Amy and Maya. Once Paul Blart: Mall Cop becomes the umpteenth bland riff on Die Hard, it's time to check out for good. A broken-glass fetish sets in, cops and SWAT commandos spin their wheels outside (overqualified actor Bobby Cannavale plays Commander Kent), and Blart beats the odds by taking down the bad guys two by two. Of course, James accomplishes this feat by falling down and rolling around as much as possible.

The winking '80s vibe cultivated by director Steve Carr is long since old hat: you'll be yawning from the opening titles, as the camera caresses the contours of a security-guard shield, and the use of '80s power ballads has likewise lost its comedic impact. None of the silly trappings seems capable of eliciting a laugh. A spangled cell-phone here, a Hello Kitty band-aid there, a fist fight with a hefty woman and a nacho-eating contest—it's all one big wash. Perhaps that's why Carr runs into the ground the film's sole comedic asset: Blart leaning around on his Segway scooter. Sony hedges its bets, of course: the West Orange Pavilion Mall is conspicuously well-stocked with Sony products.

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