"Paul Blart: Mall Cop" is better than it sounds, which is to say that it's not good at all but just shy of awful. The title, though, is something to behold, and may be reason enough for this tepid, instantly forgettable comedy to go belly-up at the box-office. Seriously, does making a trip to the theater and spending ten bucks a pop to see something called "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" sound appealing to anyone? Maybe ten-year-old boys. Maybe. But don't let the PG rating fool you; this is basically "Die Hard" set in a mall, only with less laughs and not as much profanity. The peril, gunplay and endangered lives, however, are safely intact.
Bumbling, heavyset single father Paul Blart (Kevin James) has dreamed of becoming a state trooper, but his hypoglycemia has kept him time and again from finishing the mandatory obstacle course. Working instead as a security guard at the West Orange Pavilion Mall, Paul tries to maintain his dignity even as he is dogged by coworkers and humiliated in front of the girl he has eyes for, sweet-faced weave seller Amy (Jayma Mays). When the mall is suddenly taken over on Black Friday by a group of thieves led by Veck Sims (Keir O'Donnell), Paul is the only remaining inhabitant not captured and held hostage at the mall bank (he was too busy playing "Guitar Hero" in the closed video game store). Now, with the cops surrounding the building and Amy and, later, his own precocious daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez) trapped in the bank, it is solely up to Paul to save the day.
"Paul Blart: Mall Cop" was directed by Steve Carr, the king of throwaway family movies whose past credits include 2005's "Rebound
" and 2007's "Are We Done Yet?
" He is in his comfort zone here, but a game Kevin James (2007's "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
") and a cute-as-a-button Jayma Mays (2007's "Epic Movie
") raise the proceedings all on their own above being thoroughly detestable. James and Mays share the best scene in the filma joint ride on a Segway through the mall and out to Amy's car, scored to '80s power ballad "I Can't Hold Back" by Survivorthat surprisingly doesn't end in a cheap pratfall or gag. It's just a pure, sweet moment, and one of the few that the picture provides.
The central heist plot, by contrast, is running on autopilot, and so is the screenplay by Kevin James and Nick Bakay. Attempts at humor are broad, but so uninspired that there isn't a single joke worth mentioning or remembering. Paul may not always be balanced on his feet, but he manages to elude the criminals as he sets out to save the hostages. That he intentionally breaks the law himselfhe actually finds the time to shatter the glass of a Hallmark store in order to get Amy a birthday card while she sits at gunpoint mere steps awayis washed over by director Steve Carr, who reasons away Paul's own occasional ill behavior simply because he's the hero of the piece. A subplot involving the police outside and Commander James Kent's (Bobby Cannavale) shared past with Paul is egregious, particularly when it leads to a groan-inducing last-act twist.
Boring and predictable in both its narrative and its aesthetics, "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" merrily goes on its way without bothering to add inspiration into the equation. Kevin James is likable in the title role, but deserves a smarter cinematic vehicle to show off his talents, while Jayma Mays plays nice in the underwritten part of love interest Amy. A movie focusing just on their blossoming relationship would have been preferable to anything else offered up here. Save for the few nice moments between them and the handful between Paul and daughter Maya, "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" is dumbed-down, low-rent slapstick with stereotypes galore and a violent undercurrent that doesn't sit well. With witticism not in director Steve Carr's vocabulary, he chooses to go for the juvenile.