Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)

I Fought the Law…

To name a film after its central character suggests that the protagonist will be strong enough to single-handedly carry the film and entertaining enough to hold the attention. These rules apply whether the title pertains specifically to the name – such as Rocky or Hellboy – or occupation – think The Godfather, Wrestler or Hustler. So does Paul Blart live up to the honour of having both his moniker and his line of work name checked in the title? Well, he’s definitely no Taxi Driver but, within the bubble of Carr’s movie, he’s certainly the star.

Blart (James) dreams of becoming a New Jersey cop but, with his portly figure and fear of criminals, he’s far better suited to his job as a security guard at the local mall. It’s a role he takes very seriously, patrolling the mall on his Segway Personal Transporter. When a gang of robbers (lead by a deliciously droll O’Donnell) overrun the place and take both his daughter (Rodriguez) and object of his affection, shop owner Amy (Mays), hostage, Paul realises he’s the only one who can save the day.

Set almost entirely within the boundaries of the mall, the film’s narrative scope is as limited and one-dimensional as its setting. But it’s not meant to be deep – it’s intended as an easy-going laugh-fest and on that front it succeeds thanks exclusively to Kevin James’s energetic performance. He takes every opportunity to play on Paul’s physical and social failings – indeed, 90 percent of the laughs come from him throwing himself across the floor, doing acrobatic manoeuvres on his Segway, embarrassing himself in front of Amy and, in one memorable scene, getting hideously, hilariously drunk. Anyone who’s seen James in TV show
King of Queens or movies like Hitch know he’s very good at poking fun at himself and pulling off the pratfall. He’s reminiscent of Adam Sandler in that respect – and, indeed, Paul Blart is produced by Sandler’s Happy Madison imprint.

But like any underdog story there has to be a happy ending and it’s here that the cracks of cliche begin to appear. As Paul finds the inner strength to take on the bad guys and win the girl – and it’s testament to the movies dot-to-dot predictability that this is not a spoiler – so the film lumbers to a pat, obvious and lazy conclusion which doesn’t seem worthy of James’s enthusiastic performance. For this is definitely his film and, although he won’t set the cinematic world alight, as Paul Blart: Mall Cop he’ll certainly raise a smile.

3 stars

Kevin James, Jayma Mays, Keir O’Donnell, Rani Rodriguez
Director Steve Carr
Screenplay Nick Bakay & Kevin James
Certficate PG
Distributor Columbia Pictures
Running Time 1hr 31mins
Opens March 20