Review: ‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop’

STOP! MALL POLICE! Paul Blart (Kevin James) tries to slow down a rascally shopper. The movie, which James co-wrote, has much physical comedy.
STOP! MALL POLICE! Paul Blart (Kevin James) tries to slow down a rascally shopper. The movie, which James co-wrote, has much physical comedy.
(Richard Cartwright, xx)

“Paul Blart: Mall Cop” is as sticky and gooey as a Cinnabon cinnamon roll, a snack the movie’s title character has no doubt sampled once or twice over the years during his shift. A high-concept mash-up of “Die Hard” and “Kung Fu Panda,” “Blart” gives sitcom star Kevin James a showcase for broad-comedy pratfalls, providing him 87 minutes to plop, flop and crash into things, highlights of which have been playing nonstop on Nickelodeon for the last two weeks.

The targeted tween audience will lap up James’ antics, but for the rest of us, “Blart” is just empty calories. The genial James has an appealing everyman quality, but the movie, written by James and his “King of Queens” writing partner Nick Bakay and directed by journeyman Steve Carr (“Daddy Day Care”), too often settles for easy, lazy jokes, most of which revolve around either food or running into stuff.

Blart lives in New Jersey with his mother (Shirley Knight) and daughter (Raini Rodriguez), covering the loneliness of his existence by slathering peanut butter on his nightly slice of pie. “Peanut butter . . . it fills the cracks of the heart,” Blart says between bites.

Blart does gain a measure of fulfillment from his job at a West Orange, N.J., mall, where he scoots nimbly around on a Segway (the film gets nice mileage capturing James’ dexterity on the two-wheeler), going about his sworn duty to “detect, deter, observe and report.” That he has no real authority is an idea the filmmakers try to exploit, but the best scenario they can imagine involves Blart wrestling a heavyset woman in a lingerie store.

The movie’s main action involves Black Friday, an elaborate robbery scheme, a hostage scenario, criminals played by actual X Games athletes and a shot at redemption for our hero. There’s also a love story between Blart and a doe-eyed kiosk saleswoman (Jayma Mays), a good egg who intuits that somewhere beneath the mall cop’s doughy exterior beats the heart of a champion. And not just because he won the nacho-eating contest, either.

Similarly, underneath all the cartoonish mall mayhem and silly slapstick lies a comedy that aspires to be the sort of gentle crowd-pleaser John Hughes used to make. Trouble is, the filmmakers are unwilling to sacrifice any of James’ rolling-and-tumbling time to beef up Blart’s history or his relationship with his daughter. Even a minimal adjustment could have made the movie’s late-in-the-game, heartstrings-tugging peril more palatable.

Then again, maybe we should be thankful for the tone as is. The movie’s few stabs at emotion involve music cues using Barry Manilow’s “Weekend in New England” and Survivor’s “I Can’t Hold Back.” The Manilow song might -- repeat, might -- be a stab at irony, but it should be noted that Adam Sandler, a longtime advocate of the simple pleasures of Styx, mentored James and produced “Blart.” Don’t think he doesn’t own a copy of Survivor’s greatest hits.