Some celebrities aren't meant to cross over into different mediums. While they may look good on a concert stage or in a series of small-screen comedy sketches, that doesn't mean they're headed for cinematic superstardom. Certain performers need to stay well within their audience-gauged abilities. Take Kevin James
, for example. He's a wonderful stand-up comedian and a decent sitcom spouse. But put him in movies, and suddenly the limitations start showing up. This is definitely the case in Paul Blart: Mall Cop. While this PG romp is clearly aimed at a less sophisticated crowd, the comic's genial nature constantly tries to lift the material. It doesn't work.
Overweight and desperately lonely, mall security guard Paul Blart (James) just wants to get through Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. He's worried about protecting the customers. Having failed the police academy obstacle course a record eight times, the mall job is all he has. Yet his daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez
) knows he needs someone to spend his life with outside of work. Paul specifically has eyes for kiosk salesgirl Amy (Jayma Mays
) but he's just too shy to ask her out. But when a group of criminals led by Veck Sims (Keir O'Donnell) enters the facility and takes hostages, it's up to Blart to save the day... if he can. Article continues below
At first, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is unfathomably unfunny. The first 45 minutes center around mean-spirited fat jokes, a pair of incredibly awkward slapstick scenes (including one where James fights with a chunky chick in Victoria's Secret -- ugh), and some of the most simplistic character development ever put in a mainstream motion picture. As a benevolent blimp, James is reduced to smiling while people pick on him, his over-emphasized girth the one-wit note the movie relies on to garner some giggles. It's so overdone at one point that we actually feel bad for the actor. Anyone who knows his stand-up act understands James's issues with weight, but the anger expressed by the people Blart must deal with seems almost inhuman.
As this point, we figure that nothing will save this barrel bottom scraping mess, but director Steve Carr (responsible for the reprehensible Ice Cube vehicle Are We Done Yet?) just keeps plugging away. He tosses in incomplete subplots and unappealing ancillary characters and hopes something catches. When the film suddenly turns into Die Hard with fatsos, however, the situation does actually start to improve. Turning James' joke of a security guard into something close to a hero actually removes much of the sting scored at Blart's expense. Instead, the comedy comes directly from our wannabe McClane dealing with his own hindering heftiness. There is just something inherently laughable about a size-52 guy trying to engage in size-32 action man antics. This material acts like CPR to the first part of Mall Cop. Sadly, it can't sustain its resuscitative powers.
Had the movie started off less pathetically, had screenwriters James and buddy Nick Bakay banished the sappy stridence and simply let Blart become a husky champion, we'd have a light little action adventure on our hands here. While not perfect, the thriller spoof works. As it stands, there's just too much pity and not enough witty about the first half of the film, and when you're packaging the King of Queens star as a potential box office draw, emphasizing his weak points seems insane. While fans will probably appreciate this far too sweet and cuddly comedy, there was clearly more potential here. No one can fault James for trying this approach to his future film career, but perhaps he should rethink the entire media transition.