Chivalry Under Fire
Although never riotously funny, the slapstick comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop has a big heart in the plus-size form of its eponymous security guard. In turn, Officer Blart gets his heart from star Kevin James, who co-wrote the script and whose flair for physical comedy enables the character to emerge the king of his retail domain.
New Jersey's West Orange Pavilion Mall is the shopping Mecca in question. It's where Paul, having failed to pass the state police exam eight times, has toiled for the past ten years. Approaching his job with considerably more seriousness than shoppers take him or his fellow guards take their duties, he's sworn a private oath to protect everyone who steps foot inside the mall.
During any given shift, he can be found diligently patrolling the faux marble corridors aboard a Segway personal transporter, acting with gross officiousness, albeit with everyone's safety uppermost and genuinely in mind.
In addition to chivalry (about which more below), our unlikely hero embodies a number of other qualities not often championed on screen these days. Honesty, respect for others, and perseverance. Above all, it's because Paul can relate to those, like himself, who deviate from society's ideal body type that this pratfall-filled movie rises above its juvenile qualities and imitation Die Hard plot to satisfy audiences primed with low expectations.
Paul's only significant character flaw is that he attributes his girth to hypoglycemia, which is merely an excuse to self-medicate with food, or as he puts it while smearing peanut butter on a slab of berry pie, to "fill the cracks of the heart." His body does show the effects of his habit of ingesting sugar (usually Pixie Sticks; but he's hardly choosey) whenever he's tense. And it's a vicious circle. The more he eats, the bigger he gets and the more he must cope with people's assumption that he's a loser because he's heavy.
At the outset, Paul fails the physical fitness portion of the police exam once again and is consoled by his mother's home cooking and words of encouragement from his daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez). We learn that his wife was an illegal alien who married him to secure citizenship and then skedaddled, leaving him to raise Maya by himself. She and her grandmother (Shirley Knight) believe the key to Paul's happiness is romance not smaller portions. They keep pestering him to find a girlfriend, going so far as to register him on an Internet dating sight and telling little white lies to boost his appeal.
His profile doesn't get any hits but Paul isn't terribly keen because a new girl at work has caught his eye. Amy (Jayma Mays) sells hair extensions at a kiosk called "Unbeweaveable." Unfortunately, his bumbling attempts to ask her out her are torpedoed one night when all the mall workers meet at a restaurant and he gets filthy drunk.
Not to worry. His chance to prove his mettle comes soon enough. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year, a gang of scruffy thieves armed with guns and Extreme sports skills (among the actors cast are actual skateboarders, bikers and athletes from the X-Games) overrun the mall and take hostages. Naturally, Amy is among those imperiled and Paul steps up and derails their scheme, showing that beneath layers of insulation lies an agile, capable and caring stud. He wins the girl and the respect of his many detractors in the process.
While Paul Blart: Mall Cop never stops making fun of its protagonist, it's not particularly mean or base. Suitable for family viewing, the movie's self-deprecating and largely good-natured humor is tame enough to affirm a positive message about society's obsession with gaining and losing weight.
Director Steve Carr's effort isn't an accomplished piece of filmmaking, but its faults can be overlooked given its sense of empathy. Its wisdom boils down to a request Paul makes of Amy about midway through after making a disgusting fool of himself, "Don't write me off."
(Released by Sony Pictures and rated "PG" for some violence, mild crude and suggestive humor, and language.)