Sitcom star Kevin James co-wrote this vehicle for himself whose central joke may elude non-American viewers unaware how “mall cops” are seen as something of a laughing stock stateside. Burly, big hearted security guard Paul Blart (Kevin James) is routinely humiliated by shoppers, whether attempting to pull over an old man on his mobility scooter to write him a ticket, or getting his ass kicked by an angry overweight woman in the lingerie store. Hypoglycaemia costs Paul his chance to become a state trooper, while his mom (Shirley Knight) and daughter (Raini Rodriguez) worry he’ll spend his life alone since his immigrant wife ditched him shortly after gaining her citizenship. His attempts to woo perky salesgirl Amy (Jayma Mays) are cruelly mocked by obnoxious pen salesman Stuart (Stephen Rannazzisi). But Paul gets his chance to shine when a gang of armed, acrobatic skateboarding (?!) bank robbers hijack the mall and hold his loved ones hostage.
In one of those sporadic movie coincidences that pit the likes of Deep Impact (1998) against Armageddon (1998) or Independence Day (1996) against Mars Attacks! (1996), unsuspecting audiences found themselves faced with two mall cop comedies in 2009, the other being the darker, but not necessarily better Observe and Report starring Seth Rogen. American cinemagoers voted overwhelmingly for Paul Blart: Mall Cop, but the film is the comedy equivalent of weak tea. Mildly amusing at best, this gets the job done but may leave you feeling slightly cross that this is the best the filmmakers can do with their premise. On the other hand, considering this comes from Steve Carr, the director responsible for the odious likes Daddy Day Care (2003) and Are We Done Yet? (2007), maybe it isn’t so surprising.
Bog standard fat guy gags sit alongside strained attempts at pathos and syrupy messages about looking for beauty within and taking a chance on love, although the goofball courtship between Paul and Amy is rather sweet. Produced by James’ I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry co-star Adam Sandler, this features a handful of Sandler cohorts to little effect but newcomer Raini Rodriguez shows promise as Blart’s devoted daughter.
Once the film morphs into an extended Die Hard (1988) spoof - with several scenes directly alluding to the iconic action epic - the plot springs a handful of half-hearted twists along with some surprisingly decent stunts. Problem is, the movie has spent so long convincing us Paul Blart is a well-intentioned but hapless loser, his sudden transformation into an unlikely action hero proves far from convincing. Plus, although essentially a comedy, this does play like every skater-hating mall cop’s wet dream, with our hero putting the smackdown on an array of tattooed, disrespectful, greasy-haired punks with zero irony. Columbia Pictures’ DVD includes a commentary from James and co-producer Todd Garner, deleted scenes and ten making of featurettes.