Written by: Melissa Muenz, Special to CC2K
The last time I saw Kevin James was when I experienced less than a half hour of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. The portion I saw, which featured a drunken homeless person dancing at James and Sandler's wedding reception, was so bad that I found it actually offensive. I went into Paul Blart: Mall Cop with this as my reference point. On one hand, I had a sour Kevin James taste in my mouth, but on the other hand, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry kind of makes everything around it look good.
As it turns out, viewers should have James's other major work mentally at the ready. Mall Cop's eponymous hero encompasses every male sitcom stereotype since The Flintstones, including the schlub James plays on King of Queens. James' career so far has been based on playing directly to television's male gender prototype: dopey, fat and a lover of junk food.
Despite this tired model, at least Kevin James seems comfortable playing to the stereotypes. Paul Blart is chubby, mustachioed, happy-go-lucky, big-hearted and easily duped. James is right at home alongside the Tim Allens and Homer Simpsons that came before him, and in Mall Cop the writers even heighten Blart's likability in an effort to make his character last for a full feature. (Also, without some major personality compensation, Blart would never end up with Jayma Mays's character; imagine, a fat dude ending up with a hot chick! I've never seen that before!)
For the most part, Mall Cop is exactly what you would expect – not just with the character stereotypes, but with the plot as well. We see Blart go through the painful humiliation humor that is so well known to movies with comical underdogs. The script seems to make an attempt not to rely too much on fat jokes (Blart is hypoglycemic, so his penchant for sugar is justified), but Mall Cop ultimately falls into this trap anyway. But honestly, this isn't a surprise – the trailers don't really hide the fact that audiences are in for jokes about segways and falling over, so you're not really looking for high brow humor anyway.
When a new mall cop infiltrates security, the good people of Blart's mall run into trouble. For some reason, crazy street punks smuggle in guns and, inexplicably, bikes and skateboards. Soon these bad guys are evacuating the building, taking hostages, and extreme sport-ing all over the place.
Mall Cop is at its best during this heist, and by “its best” I mean 50% decent physical comedy and 50% "Paul Blart is a fat tool" jokes. As expected, Blart eventually succeeds by creatively sneak-attacking the thugs with comedic mall tricks. The movie throws in a twist that's relevant for about 15 seconds, and everyone learns an important lesson about underestimating friendly fat folks.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop is mostly impressive for two reasons: It's rated PG and clocks in at under 90 minutes. These facts show a certain level of self-awareness. These types of comedies are for middle schoolers, not adults. Movies like Drillbit Taylor, Role Models and Stepbrothers are dumb comedies in the same mold, but they fail when they try to throw in some kind of moral or affirmation about being yourself or finding your purpose. Between the quality and the message, these movies should be trying to cater to an immature crowd directly. In this sense, Mall Cop knows its place. The needlessly dirty stuff is absent, and it's full of pratfalls and good feelings.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop retains the stamp of Adam Sandler. This movie, like I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, is another product of Happy Madison Productions, meaning that the best it can hope for is to be as good as 50 First Dates. And while this is yet another fact that warps the scale of good versus bad, at least Mall Cop isn't kidding itself about its substance. It's a stupid comedy catering to an audience that wants stupid comedies. And it serves that purpose well.