News From Terre Haute, Indiana

At the Movies

January 16, 2009

Freeze before seeing "Paul Blart: Mall Cop"

HOLLYWOOD — The biggest crime of all in “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” is not the bank heist that goes down at a New Jersey mall on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Rather, it’s the egregious way in which Kevin James’ innate likability goes to waste.

The “King of Queens” star showed he could play an underdog with some sweetness and depth as a lovesick accountant in the 2005 romantic comedy “Hitch” — and he practically stole the movie away from Will Smith. This time, he plays yet another misfit, but one who’s so two-dimensional, needy (and frankly annoying) that it’s difficult to root for him.

Trouble is, James himself created the character: “I just love this guy,” he says in the film’s production notes. He’ll probably be one of the precious few who do.

James’ Paul Blart is a portly pushover who tries hard to be the tough guy as a shopping center security guard. Hypoglycemic and woefully out of shape, he’s failed the New Jersey state trooper exam eight times; nevertheless, he squeezes into his polyester uniform and takes his job as seriously as if he were out keeping the highways safe from speeders and drunk drivers. (His vehicle, by the way, is a Segway, which is repeatedly played for laughs but isn’t particularly amusing the first time.)

In an anemic take off on “Die Hard,” Paul gets his chance to prove himself when a bunch of skateboarding, bike-riding, X-Games refugees infiltrate the mall with plans to rob the bank, taking a few hostages in the process. One of them is Amy (Jayma Mays), the wide-eyed salesgirl at the hair extension kiosk, for whom Paul has the geeky hots. He awkwardly tries to woo her with boring trivia tidbits, which is meant to be endearing; instead it’s yet another conceit that quickly grows wearisome in the script from James and his longtime writing partner, Nick Bakay.

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