During his reign on the hit television show "King of Queens," comedian Kevin James managed to combine the expected serving of fat jokes and pratfalls with a vigorous wit and nuanced domestic observation. "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" is his first solo starring endeavor, and there's a flagrant absence of cleverness to gnaw on, replaced with a broader tone of family film hijinks. The end product won't win any Oscars, but the edges of this slapstick action film retain James's blitzkrieg sense of humor, making for a light comic adventure I'm positive kids will flip for.
A lonely security officer with weight and relationship issues, Paul Blart (Kevin James) desires to become a police officer, but finds his hypoglycemic self more suited to keeping his mall protected. One night, while distracted by a fierce game of Rock Band, Blart doesn't notice the mall being taken over by a group of gymnastic criminals, leaving him the only employee left in the building when the thieves start to raid the stores. Armed only with his experience, Blart fights back the best he can, hoping to thwart the robbery, but also trying to save his daughter and his wig-kiosk object of affection (the poor man's Anna Faris, Jayma Mays) before it's too late.
"Mall Cop" is a straightforward exercise in silliness, using James's gift for tumbly physical comedy as a beacon to guide the rest of the mild diversion to smile-worthy comic elevation. I wouldn't classify the picture as "great," but it's not nearly as humiliating for James as it sounds. In fact, the actor makes the most out of this star turn, serving up his trademark flips and flops with incredible zeal, sweating up a storm to nudge the material past its inherent staleness and into the land of giggles.
Director Steve Carr, an old hand with flavorless family films ("Daddy Day Care," "Are We Done Yet?"), backs James with curious moments of roughhouse stunt work. The mall terrorists are comprised of an extreme sport touring company (cartoonish in appearance, but it works), with a pack of skateboarders and parkour enthusiasts after Blart, smashing around the building in what becomes an unexpected, and entirely welcome, token of intensity. Once "Mall Cop" goes from repetitive fat jokes and Blart lovesickness to "Die Hard Jr." mode, Carr respects the change in gravity, turning in some PG-safe, glass-shattering acrobatics, and assembling a great KISS montage for Blart's absentminded video gaming sidetrack. Carr doesn't push the material to the edge for optimal satisfaction, but there are moments in which the picture surprises. In the dead zone of monotone family entertainment, every morsel of invention feels like a brick of gold.
There's aren't many movies willing to blow up a Rainforest Café for their grand finale, adding another layer of the unexpected to "Mall Cop" that counteracts the majority of dud jokes and miscalculated performances. All the picture truly needs is James, here deploying some amazing Segway moves and bruiser pratfalls, using the snug confines of the polyester security uniform to his advantage as he maneuvers around the film's 400 fatty-falls-down-go-boom gags. There's not an ounce of humanity to the picture, but James knows his audience well, and his sincerity is engaging. He just needs to lay off the weight jokes.
Seeing how "Blart" exists in a candy-colored mall world, the image quality on the anamorphic widescreen DVD (1.85:1 aspect ratio) is surprisingly anemic. Outdoor locations are muted, skintones read slightly pink, and black levels are muddy, with overall detail missing from most sequences. While a picture motivated by broad waves of slack-jawed slapstick, a fresh visual perspective to the nonsense is needed to appreciate the absurdity. This DVD looks like it was left out in the sun for too long.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix is pure cartoon, with sly directional effects keeping the viewer in the middle of the comic violence. Rock-intensive soundtrack cuts fill the mix wonderfully, while the dialogue is kept clear and distinct, even when the film goes crazy. The finest bass-heavy moments comes near the end of the picture, when Paul and the mall explode. A French 5.1 track is also available.
English and French subtitles are included.
A feature-length audio commentary with star Kevin James and producer Todd Garner holds a weird interest just to learn how many comedians and civilians lent their jokes to the final product. Garner and James maintain an upbeat atmosphere of praise for their fellow cast and crew members, trying to offer the listener a light recollection of production accomplishments (the best: the gross-out lollipop Blart is forced to consume was only an orange sucker covered in cotton candy and crushed Oreos). Hearing how many times James hurt himself is pretty amazing, as is the actor's slight discontent with the film's screwy continuity and oblivious editing. While not all that humorous, the chat is still entertaining for those who would like to learn a few "Paul Blart" secrets. The only real odd quality? Little to no mention of director Steve Carr.
"Deleted Scenes" (11:46) showcase Blart's online dating photo shoot, mumbly mall janitors, a snow globe assault, Blart's awkward interaction with young shoppers, further villain exposition, and more cell phone appearances from frustrated assistant Pahud (Adhir Kalyan).
"Featurettes" (49:31) is a hefty collection of mini-documentaries crafted with a sickly one-dimensional promotional perspective. While the on-set interviews with cast and crew are meaningless and overtly fawning, the BTS footage is splendid, displaying outstanding "free running vs. parkour" stunt accomplishments and good-natured cast interaction. With clips and marketing muck clogging up the efficiency of the featurettes, it's worth a sit just to spy the unrehearsed moments of fear and misbehavior.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
"Paul Blart: Mall Cop" needs to be digested as a lightweight afternoon diversion aiming to please children, not as a creation of exceeding wit. Its manic spirit and occasional achievement of comedic violence makes for an entertaining sit. I only hope it pushes Kevin James to more rewarding cinematic endeavors.
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