There’s nothing quite like the words “Happy Madison Productions” appearing on the screen to diminish my expectations concerning the movie about to unfold. Unfortunately, the pall of gloom that settled over me the moment prior to the actual start of Paul Blart: Mall Cop wasn’t quite sufficient to brace me for the spectacularly unfunny 80-odd minutes that followed. As Happy Madison productions go, it does have the advantage of being considerably less actively obnoxious than your average Rob Schneider vehicle. Alas, this doesn’t keep Paul Blart from being passively bad—and that may actually be worse.
The apparent idea was to boost Kevin James from the realm of genial supporting player—Hitch (2005), I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007)—to some kind of stardom. The idea may have merit. The one-joke premise of the resulting movie is another matter. The fact that James cowrote the film lays the blame pretty squarely on him, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t factor in the largely nonexistent direction of Steve Carr, the man who brought us Are We Done Yet? (2007). Judging by the movie’s holiday setting, it would seem as if the folks at Happy Madison and Columbia Pictures didn’t think the results were terribly inspiring and chose to dump it in the annual January white sale of stinkers rather than release it during the holiday season. The irony is that opening-day business suggests that there actually is a market for movies predicated on the idea that a fat guy on a Segway is howlingly funny. All I can say is cross yourself quick and offer up a prayer to H.L. Mencken.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to have missed the trailers and the ad campaign, you perhaps need to know that James plays Paul Blart, a mall security guard with dreams of being a real policeman, despite an inability to make it through police academy. The film opens with him failing at this and seeking solace in his family—consisting of his mother (Shirley Knight, Grandma’s Boys) and daughter (Raini Rodriguez)—and food, before returning to his unglamorous job. Things aren’t helped by his insistence on taking his job so seriously—and performing it so ineptly. He’s a joke to his coworkers, though the picture seems to brighten when the pretty girl, Amy (Jayma Mays, Epic Movie), at the hair-extension kiosk is nice to him, even to the extent of inviting him to go along to a karaoke bar with the rest of the employees. Accidental drunkenness and mirth ensue. Well, the first does, the mirth merely tries to.
Things change when a gang of thieves take over the mall late in the day on Black Friday, taking a few hostages—including Amy, of course—and inadvertently affording Paul the opportunity to demonstrate his latent heroic qualities. A degree in cinema—or possibly even an elementary-school diploma—isn’t necessary to guess just how this will play out, which wouldn’t matter so much if any aspect of it were particularly clever or funny or suspenseful. The movie simply runs through the standard playbook for this kind of comedy/thriller with the dull, rote quality of a fourth grader reciting the multiplication tables.
The whole enterprise is grounded in the idea that Kevin James is so inherently lovable that the viewer will be in his corner at every turn. I think this overstates James’ appeal, elevating an innate likeability a notch or two higher than it deserves. At the same time, there’s the whole fantasy issue of his character ending up with the hot girl. Even granting that the film stacks the deck by making the other men around her either outright skunks, or so marginalized as to be non-characters, this rings false—especially with a character who finds no prospective matches on an online dating service. What is it with this particularly male fantasy? With the exception of Shallow Hall (2001)—where the prize is Jack Black, who isn’t exactly male-model material—how many movies are there where a plus-size gal ends up with a hot guy on the strength of her inner qualities? Think about it and get back to me. Rated PG for some violence, mildly crude and suggestive humor, and language.