A disposable, family-friendly Kevin James comedy? From the director of several Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence and Ice Cube turkeys? It must be that post-prestige dumping season the ticket buyers call January. But to Paul Blart: Mall Cop’s credit, its heart is in the right place for these dark recession-depression days, defending the consumer at the expense of the corporation.
Mall Cop is split into two parts: the first, a depressing portrait of a loser; the second, that loser’s feel-good redemption. (The test audience with which I saw the movie, God help us, literally cheered.) James plays the title character, whose life is a sum of humiliations: he’s incurably single, since his undocumented-immigrant wife abandoned him and their daughter once she became a citizen; he’s hypoglycemic, collapsing like a narcoleptic when not sucking down pixie sticks like cigarettes; he’s overweight, coating his post-dinner pie with peanut butter. (Fans of fat jokes will be sated.) He’s generally emasculated — he doesn’t even have a “gun” — and so undesirable that neither the New Jersey State Police nor the lonely women on Internet dating sites want anything to do with him. In the early, character-establishing scenes, Blart’s inadequacy uneasily inspires more pity than laughter, as he makes a drunken fool of himself, weeps in his bedroom and leers longingly, and creepily, at his love interest (Jayma Mays), a mall-kiosk operator, on the shopping center’s CCTV security cameras. He is frequently humiliated for his meekness, clumsiness and appearance. “You’re impossible to underestimate,” one character tells him.
But then several agile burglars take over the mall, and Blart redeemingly disarms them one by one, each time using some particular shopping-complex feature: the ball pit, a tanning bed, sporting goods. Mall Cop becomes a love letter to the American Mall, from its vast resources to its capacity for spectacle. (And setting the film there allows for copious product placements and corporate name-dropping.) But the movie transcends capitalist propaganda; it assumes a populist, anti-corporate position. The thieves aim to steal consumers’ credit card numbers, and thus Blart’s heroics protect the Christmas-shopping hoi polloi from unauthorized charges and the headaches they induce. And to do so, he destroys quite a bit of company property: he blows up a restaurant, smashes several storefronts and breaks an airshaft. He even steals a greeting card (and a minivan). Add to that the film’s suspicion of authority figures — several noble security- and police officers are joined by a few corrupt ones — and Mall Cop adds up to relatively progressive multiplex fare. Unfortunately, it’s also slow-going and witless. Blart’s sole motivation in saving the day is to protect and impress his love interest. As the woman sitting next to me muttered over the end credits: “that’s a lot to go through for a date.” And a lot more for the audience to go through just to watch a guy try to get a date.