by Mel Valentin
Kevin James, the wide-bodied comedian best known for his starring role on the late, not-so-lamented CBS series, "The King of Queens," makes the jump (or rather the stumbling half-step) from the small screen to the big screen with "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," a "Die Hard"-style action-comedy hitting multiplexes everywhere during the dreary month of January (where films from studios large and small go to die quiet, undignified deaths). Co-written by James with Nick Bakay and directed by Steve Carr ("Are We Done Yet?," "Rebound," "Daddy Day Care," "Dr. Dolittle 2," "Next Friday"), "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" wonít win any awards for originality or laughs-per-minute, but itíll probably bring a few smiles and even fewer laughs to Jamesí fans (however many there may be).A failure at almost everything heís ever done (heís failed the state police exam eight times and counting), Paul Blart (Kevin James) works as a security guard at the West Orange Pavilion Mall. He takes himself seriously because no one else will. After a disastrous marriage that left him as a single father to Maya (Raini Rodriguez), Paulís moved in with his mother (Shirley Knight). Equipped with a Segway, Blart patrols the mall with an eagle eye for trouble and mock-worthy seriousness from the mallís customers and his own co-workers, including a smug, self-satisfied pen salesman, Stuart (Stephen Rannazzisi). At his bossí request, Blart takes a new trainee, Veck Sims (Keir O'Donnell), under his wing. Despite lacking self-confidence, Blart gets up the nerve to chat up Amy (Jayma Mays), a mall employee. When a night out with Amy and other co-workers goes badly due to Blartís inexperience as a drinker, all hope seems lost for a romance with Amy.
"It's Die Hard in a mall...without the laughs (more or less)."
When, however, armed thugs close the mall early on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally marking the beginning of the holiday season, Blart springs into action. Well, not quite, at least not first. Absorbed playing videogames at a video arcade, Blart is the last to learn about the armed takeover. The thugs usher most of the customers out, but grab six mall employees stuck inside the Garden State Savings Bank. The thugs set up motion detectors and explosive charges around the mall and wait for the cops to show up, which they do. Learning that the thugs have Amy and, later Maya (through a contrived, illogical turn of events), Blart does what any mall cop has always wanted to do: he plays at action hero. Of course, the cops, first led by Sergeant Howard (Adam Ferrara) and later by Commander James Kent (Bobby Cannavale), an old high-school foe of Blartís, donít want him risking his life or, more importantly the lives of the hostages.
That Blart rises to the occasion, in effect becoming the efficient action hero heís always dreamed about becoming, isnít a surprise. Closely modeled on Die Hard (with a late sprinkling of Die Hard 2 in case youíre losing interest), Paul Blart: Mall Cop hits all of the obligatory action-comedy beats, defeating the thugs initially by accident and/or luck and later, through sheer force of will and his oversized bulk. Not surprisingly, plausibility is a distant second to sight gags and moving the derivative plot along efficiently from one set piece to another, most involving the thugs inexplicably failing to capture Blart (well if they did, Paul Blart: Mall Cop would be all but over). For no apparent reason outside of coolness points, one of the thugs rides a skateboard (and shoots a gun), another rides a BMX ride, and two others free run their way through the mall.Yes, "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" all as ridiculous as sounds. Then again, when youíre working in the action-comedy genre, creating a sense of physical danger, especially for the hero is always secondary. No one, at least no one on the heroís side, is going to get hurt seriously. The villains, of course, donít fare as well, but even there, no one gets seriously injured, just knocked out or otherwise incapacitated. No harm and definitely no foul. That sentiment essentially sums up "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," a disposable, forgettable comedy. Itís mostly inoffensive, with the exception of the anything-for-a-joke depiction of Indians (not Native Americans, the other kind). Still, any film that reminds former New Jersey residents (like this not-so-esteemed critic) why theyíve chosen to live elsewhere (the ubiquitous malls deserve some of the blame), canít be all bad. Unfortunately, "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" isnít all that good either.
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originally posted: 01/16/09 04:23:34