Saturday, January 17, 2009

Review: "Paul Blart: Mall Cop"

Does anybody really expect much out of a movie with a title like "Paul Blart: Mall Cop"?

Like its low-rent, fourth-tier, amateur hour hero, "Paul Blart" the movie is the underdog that deserves its lowly status. It's a star vehicle for TV comedian Kevin James, and its very existence means that Larry the Cable Guy's film career still has legs. Somewhere, Pauly Shore is watching this and thinking, "Well, if that guy can get his own movie ..."

And yet, it's hard to hold any serious hard feelings against James, or this movie. It's clearly intended for preteen kids who will respond to the abundance of facial mugging and pratfalls. Parents, and any unsuspecting unattached adults, will just have to suffer through.

James, with a body like a high school lineman gone to pot, does manage a few grace notes here and there as he's bouncing off minivans, splatting into locked glass doors or squirming through air ducts. He spends a great deal of the movie riding one of those Segway movers, and his ability to dodge and weave and swerve with that thing is sort of uncanny.

I was disappointed that James, who co-wrote the movie with his "King of Queens" co-star Nick Bakay, never jumped on the joke with the most potential: Why is it exactly that mall security guards ride around on Segways instead of just walking? Their top speed is no better than a person going at a medium trot, so it's not like they serve some sort of legitimate security reason. Their only purpose seems to be preventing people from getting some much-needed exercise.

Given the set-up, the movie pretty much writes itself. Blart is overdedicated to his job, even inventing oaths and creeds that mystify his fellow guards, who want to sneak behind a camera monitor and zone out. He's sweet on the new girl at the wig kiosk (Jayma Mays), in a role so underwritten most of her dialogue is delivered via text message.

Then a gang of skanky skateboard punks and parkour acrobats invade the mall, take everyone hostage including wig girl, and it's up to Paul to do a "Die Hard," even though everybody thinks he's a joke.

The only real flashes of originality are the presence of Blart's mother and daughter, who sign him up for a Web dating service with predictable results, and making the character a hypoglycemic.

The idea of a hero who has to stop every few minutes to pound some Pixy Stix or he'll go into a torpor is worth a few chuckles ... a very few. Most of the time, "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" is just punching the clock.

1.5 stars out of four

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