Is it too soon to declare a worst movie of 2009? Fine, but even regardless of whatever other Hollywood bitch slaps we have in store for us in the next 11 months, Paul Blart: Mall Cop can’t possibly improve with age. You heard it here first: This one really threatens to go the distance, from zero to less.
Yes, it’s even worse than Bride Wars. This is ostensibly a family-friendly action-comedy starring Kevin James, who co-wrote the script with Nick Bakay, as a roly-poly lonely-heart who once dreamed of becoming a New Jersey state trooper but passed out in the academy obstacle course on account of his blood-sugar issues. Now he lives with his mother (Shirley Knight) and his daughter (Raini Rodriguez) — there was a wife, briefly, but she took off after getting the green card — and works his suburban mall security shifts with weighty determination. Pun intended, if only to convey the level of the humor here.
Viewers who might have felt confounded by the vocational duplexity of Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector will find Paul Blart: Mall Cop refreshingly single-minded. Paul takes shopper safety seriously so you don’t have to. By and large — pun again intended, if only to convey the tedium of the humor here — he’s a peaceable man, inclined to scuffle with the occasional chubby middle-aged woman or infirm elderly man not by disposition but by duty. He makes his daily patrols on a Segway, the self-balancing two-wheeled scooter that revolutionized human transportation by emancipating it from dignity. Actually, a democratic attitude toward the deprivation of dignity may be the signature style for director Steve Carr (Daddy Day Care, Are We Done Yet?), whose way with actors apparently is to treat them all equally unflatteringly.
James in particular flails through the motions of overcooked single-dad sincerity, flat-falling pratfalls, and moony-eyed pining for the cute wig saleslady (Jayma Mays) Paul hopes to woo by movie’s end. He’s game for the great lengths to which the story goes in order to establish and deploy its few lousy gags, but the character, such as it is, seems neither pompous enough to deserve his frequent humiliations nor craven enough to deserve any development. How can comedy so broad also be so narrow? Pun — yeah, enough.
Movies don’t lack successful examples of plump, overzealous, under-authoritative badge-wearers in silly comedies, from John Candy in National Lampoon’s Vacation (“Sorry folks, park’s closed; moose out front shoulda told ya”) to Nick Frost in Hot Fuzz (“Have you ever fired two guns whilst jumping through the air?”), but Paul Blart: Mall Cop seems only to have watered those examples way down. (“Nobody knows this mall better than I do.” Um. Right.)
And so, when the mall is besieged by a gang of crooks with menacing tattoos and unnecessary parkour moves, whom Paul alone must defeat, the only way to get excited is to realize it means that the movie is closer to being over. What ensues is essentially Die Hard for doofuses, by which this film borrows that one’s plot turns and forces them into its own as if out of desperation. Scenery-chewing melodrama by Keir O’Donnell as the gang’s young mastermind notwithstanding, team Blart can’t even muster enough energy or imagination for a thorough parody.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop also has the distinction of being not even an Adam Sandler movie, but close (Sandler, who co-starred with James in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, is among Paul Blart: Mall Cop’s producers). That should at least count for some underdog karma; maybe, when the year has ended with this movie at the bottom of the heap, it will.