After a harrowing holiday season where it seemed like stories of dismal sales and trampled retail employees were the only news fit to print, Columbia Pictures and Happy Madison help take the edges off those memories with Paul Blart: Mall Cop. It’s family-friendly, which makes it a whimsical time to share with the kids without having to cover their eyes or ears. This may disappoint some, but rest assured that there’s plenty of punching, kicking and fat people getting hurt to appease most Happy Madison purists.
Paul Blart (Kevin James) is a loser. He’s overweight, a single father since his wife ran out on him, and he also continually fails the physical exam for the Jersey State Troopers. As a result, Blart is forced to endure his no-respect-position as a mall security officer, which he takes too seriously. The only bright spot to his life is mall kiosk employee Amy (Jayma Mays) whom Blart is sweet on. So when the megaplex is overtaken by thugs, Blart must overcome his self-doubt and become the true cop he knows he can be to save the girl and the day.
The comedy of Paul Blart exists as the sum of its disparate humorous elements. For instance, the film relies on the old standby that fat people are generally funny. So it’s natural that Blart gets into a semi-sumo wrestling match with a fat lady where he conveniently lifts her shirt to reveal the love handles that crease her back. In fact, the entire Blart family is rotund, including his Latina daughter. She’s a different race, because Blart married an illegal immigrant who ran off and left him with her after attaining her citizenship. This sets up an opportunity for ethnic humor, but it surprisingly comes from another source: a thick-accented Indian named Pahud who periodically calls Blart to lament the loss of his girlfriend whose cell phone Blart is borrowing. Separately, these elements threaten to comically confuse audiences early on, but fortunately Paul Blart eventually finds its rhythm.
Special recognition is definitely due Kevin James for his physical performance throughout. Watching his graceful clumsiness is akin to watching a great choreographed fight or dance scene. James has the uncanny ability of knowing exactly how the audience is viewing him at any given moment and how to manipulate his body in the funniest, most embarrassing and most painful ways for maximum entertainment. From falling through windows to smashing his head on tables to his erotic video of himself on a Segway, Kevin James is a rare delight to behold.
With that in mind, it makes sense from a film aesthetic standpoint that the bad guys be composed of extreme sports stars, like skateboarders Mike Vallely and Jason Ellis, BMX bikers Mike Escamilla and Rick Thorne and free runners Victor Lopez and Natascha Hopkins. One physical prowess deserves another. Audiences of all ages will definitely marvel at the athletic feats, provided their willing suspensions survive low-speed skateboard chases.
Don’t take the film too seriously and Paul Blart: Mall Cop can be a wonderful way to get out of the post-holiday doldrums and reconnect with the entire family over a few laughs.