DVD Release Date: May 19, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: January 16, 2009
Rating: PG (for some violence, mild crude and suggestive humor, and mild language)
Run Time: 87 min.
Director: Steve Carr
Cast: Kevin James, Jayma Mays, Keir O’Donnell, Raini Rodriguez, Stephen Rannazzisi, Bobby Cannavale
While Kevin James has built a successful career for himself—the TV series King of Queens, a well-received supporting turn in Hitch, and various stand-up comedy specials—he could also be ranked high in the category of "The Underappreciated."
James can take the most standard comic scenarios and spin them into comedy gold by the sheer force of his appealing talents. He can make anything funny and anyone laugh—and he does just that in Paul Blart: Mall Cop, one of the best of its kind since Tommy Boy.
Conceived and co-written by James, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is about a down-on-his-luck mall security officer who is uninspired by his job. A single father, he’s also unlucky in love, living a very bland life with his tween daughter and mother. These circumstances drive him to overeating, a trait played for inoffensive laughs and even empathy as he indulges in comfort food (like when he spreads peanut butter on a piece of pie as he whispers “Go away pain …”).
He does his best to embrace his work, despite the emasculating mall security credo “Detect. Deter. Observe. Report.” As he wheels around the mall on his Segue, Blart overcompensates by exercising his duties with a bit of an authoritarian streak (such as ticketing elderly people who speed in their motorized wheel chairs). But with James’ amiable nature, he never comes off as mean because we understand he’s really looking for purpose.
The story couldn’t be more simplistic, rolling out one stock character and scenario after another. There is Amy, an attractive mall employee who catches his affection (who would honestly be out of his league in real life), the requisite “cool guy jerk” who’s pursuing the woman Paul likes while mocking him openly in front of her, and other fellow officers who also belittle his commitment to the job. These are formulaic beats familiar to, say, most Adam Sandler movies—which is apropos given that Sandler serves as one of the film’s producers.
Blart inevitably embarrasses himself in front of Amy as he attempts to connect with her, and so all he needs is just one opportunity to show his courage, strength and heart. Oh, if only one such chance were afforded him! The film, of course, is more than happy to oblige by serving up the perfect scenario when a highly-skilled team of thieves (that leap, jump, skate, bike, and fly around the mall like monkeys in a jungle) attempts a grand after-hours, credit-card code robbery scheme. They take Amy (and others) hostage in the process, and Blart ends up being the only “inside man”.
The thrust of the movie turns into “Die Hard in a mall” mixed with Home Alone antics, and suffice it to say that Blart saves the girl and the day. Yet even while suspense is a non-factor and the script couldn’t be more by-the-numbers, it’s all there to support one worthy effort: to showcase the comic talents of Kevin James. Aside from acknowledging his superb instincts, impeccable timing and gifts at physical comedy (he can even make driving a Segue hilarious), there’s not much to analyze about James other than he is very, very funny.
Still, he’s better than most in large part because of the conviction and humanity he brings. Most comics play the obligatory “awe shucks” likeability, but James really invests a sincerity that elevates the material. He makes moments laughable or tender that aren’t inherently so simply by what he brings as an actor. He and Director Steve Carr even seamlessly blend the two moods, giving a sweetness to romantic moments while still imbuing them with humor (a collection of passionate ‘80s ballads in the soundtrack certainly helps, too). On top of all that, the content is a very mild PG. There’s virtually no profanity, the handful of innuendos are fairly vague, and on the whole is about as inoffensive as Hollywood comedies get.
Yes, the movie does drag a bit (even at a tight 87 minutes). It starts strong as it focuses on the character of Blart (and James’ performance), but when it eventually kicks into its plot machine the movie loses both its Blart-focus and consistency of laughs. There’s still enough to keep audiences entertained, though, and is as sure-fire a safe crowd-pleaser as you’ll find. It’s sure to do good box office, have a long life on DVD, and maybe even inspire a Paul Blart: Mall Santa sequel—and if that means giving Kevin James even more films with better scripts, then I’m all for it.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Co-workers go out for drinks at a bar after work. Blart unknowingly consumes a pitcher of margaritas during an eating contest and becomes inebriated. It’s played for laughs.
- Language/Profanity: Only one swear word/phrase is used—“Go to hell”. The crude phrase “Eat me”. Someone asks in a phone call “Are you sweaty over her right now?” There’s also a lyrically suggestive ring tone that briefly occurs a couple of times that uses the metaphor of chewing bubble gum. A jar of hot sauce with the fake brand “The Devil’s Crotch”.
- Sex/Nudity: An overweight woman’s shirt is pulled up during a fight in the mall. She is wearing a bra. A romantic kiss, but chaste. A stalker boyfriend character (but is played for laughs).
- Violence/Other: All violence is played for light action or outright comedy, mostly consisting of gunfire and fighting. Criminals stab at Blart with a sharp metal pipe through a vent system, but Blart is never actually stabbed.
Jeffrey Huston is a film director, writer and producer at Steelehouse Productions in Tulsa, Okla. He is also cohost of the "Steelehouse Podcast,” along with Steelehouse Executive Creative Mark Steele, where each week they discuss God in pop culture.
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