Sunday, January 18, 2009

Paul Blart: Mall Cop

As far as expectations go, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is exactly what it appears to be. Kevin James plays the titular fat, moronic but lovable loser who dreams of being the hero he always wanted to be but finds himself stuck as a rent-a-cop in a nondescript New Jersey mall. The mall is not the only thing that is nondescript about Mall Cop, while there are laughs, there are also painful buildups to them, moments of stupidity and senselessness that leave audiences begging for something actually funny to happen.

A limited amount of laughs ensue when a group of criminals infiltrate and take over the mall that Blart has made up his own oath to defend. While the story is of Blart rising above his limitations to do battle with forces against which he is outmanned and outgunned, the inciting action leaves a bad taste in ones mouth as you try to figure out what it is the criminals are after and what exactly their plan was all along. The stated purpose is the codes to the credit card machines in the stores but what exactly one could do with those codes is never resolved. Director Steve Carr even threw in a few plot twists for good measure, though they are less like twists and more like wide, gentle exits the signs for which you begin to see more than 10 miles down the highway.

What little resolution we do get from Mall Cop is exactly what you would expect; Paul saves the day, gets the girl and even manages to make the criminals look like even bigger fools than he is. Of course, the biggest fools of the film are the people who ever imagined this was a good idea or legitimately funny execution. James certainly tries his best but on screen in the sole lead, his girth just isn’t enough to fill out the film. As funny as he is in other roles such as I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, on his own James just doesn’t make the grade. He appears to need someone else to play off of, to be funny and compelling where he is fat and sympathetic. You certainly feel sorry for him but empathy just isn’t the stuff that laughs are made of.

Of course, heroes are best defined by the villains they face and Blart’s are as strange and nondescript as he is. Each and every one of them appears to be an X-Games or street acrobatics champion, they hop and fly and jump and swing through the movie on bicycles and skateboards. While comedies rarely have the most terrifying of villains, it is impossible to take a criminal chasing the hero through a mall while on a skateboard seriously.

Blart’s own method of transportation is his trusty Segway, the most prominent of what is a series of glaring product placements that can only mean the film’s makers never expected much revenue from this flop and hoped instead to make it up in corporate endorsements. That being said, the Segway is a wonderful advertisement, one of the film’s few accomplishments is that audiences find themselves wishing they could whisk through the mall astride Blart atop one of the trusty gizmos, a trusty steed to Blart’s knight in bumbling armor.

To be fair, Mall Cop isn’t completely without humor. It also does not rely solely on the most juvenile and disgusting gags that many comedies today lean on when they run out of ideas. When you leave the theater, you will have laughed and you will have sympathized with Blart. You will also wonder why exactly you wasted money to ride a Segway and watch stupid people trudge through a mall. Such things, I think, are easily duplicated and far less wasteful in real life.

In the end, Mall Cop doesn't actually destroy my faith in Hollywood. Neither of course, does it do anything to affirm it. The film exists, it myopically trudges through a meaningless plot and wasted performances. A black mark certainly, but as forgettable as the film itself.