When villains seize a suburban shopping mall, bumptious security guard Paul Blart (James) must call on all his strictly nominal crime-fighting skills to foil their plans.
At first glance, Paul Blart, the latest broad-beamed burlesque from Happy Gilmore Productions, Adam Sandler’s hit-and-miss fun factory, seems to be straightforward — a mildly diverting amusement adhering closely to the time-tested adage that a lardy loser striving for dignity in a sea of humiliations is a guaranteed laugh riot. A second glance might not reveal much more. But stick with it through the over-long set-up — not too taxing given the rapid-fire gag rate — and a movie with a surprising amount of heart emerges.
Kevin James, Sandler’s I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry accomplice, stars as the titular security drone, an inherently sweet-natured sad-sack who compensates for not being a real cop by carrying out his duties at a generic New Jersey shopping mall with the maximum officious self-importance.
Aside from much falling over in general, Paul also falls specifically for the cute girl at the hair-extensions kiosk and makes an even bigger ass of himself trying to impress her. He gets his main chance when a gang of skateboarding super-thieves takes over the mall and it falls to him to save the day.
A strange, yet strangely appealing, merger of Die Hard and Home Alone, Paul Blart doesn’t have much to offer beyond the expected. Still, James is an extremely gifted physical comedian and, crucially, a genuinely likable guy. That does not fully explain, however, why, with an untested star and minimal marketing, Paul Blart has become an authentic box-office phenomenon, raking in $40 million on its opening weekend (twice as much as its own studio predicted).
It certainly has something to do with the tenor of the times, perhaps a rejection of the Bush administration’s macho bluster — Blart is the anti-John McCain — but more likely a combination of social and economic conditions that, on the one hand, render a blue-collar Joe Schmoe triumphing over adversity more attractive than a pumped-up one-man-army and, on the other, persuade ticket-buyers to be more circumspect. With financial hardships looming, would you rather spend money on a gruelling emotional downer like Revolutionary Road or a fat bloke on a Segway kicking evil X-gamer ass? And falling down. A lot.
Hardly promising but, thanks to James winningly gung-ho underdog and the fat-man grace he brings to a pratfall, unexpectedly watchable