Posted: 02/16/2009

 

Paul Blart: Mall Cop

by Isaac Sweeney




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There’s no doubt that Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a slapstick comedy. But unlike many modern slapsticks, it is surprisingly clean and surprisingly heartwarming.

Kevin James plays Blart, a large, nice, depressed man who wants desperately to be a New Jersey state trooper. Because he’s hypoglycemic, he fails the trooper academy, and consequently is a 10-year veteran mall cop. The hypoglycemia is a running gag that forces Blart to down sugar packets; it’s pivotal to the plot later. Blart is a single father; he and his more confident daughter live with Blart’s mother, who offers Blart a lot of pie (covered with peanut butter) and other meals when he’s down. Oh yeah, he’s also a Segway expert and can do stunts and even drive backwards.

Blart meets a girl, Amy, at the mall. He embarrasses himself one night (he thought it was lemonade and it was a pitcher of margaritas) and she turns him down after that. On the busiest day of the year at the mall, Black Friday, Blart, who takes his security guard job very seriously, is sad and seeks refuge for a few moments in the arcade, playing a Kiss song on the Rock Band game. Of course, this means he can’t hear the extreme-sports hooligans take over the mall with their skateboard and BMX antics. When he finally does realize what’s happening, it’s up to him to save the hostages, one of whom is the girl he likes.

The movie is basically using all the usual hostage/heist situations from Die Hard and its predecessors. But it twists them into new and funny ways. You see, Blart is sort of a bumbling man who drives his Segway into a minivan, gets plastic balls thrown at him by children, and gets beat up by a woman in Victoria’s Secret. By the end of the movie, we are expected to believe Blart can take down fast-moving, high-flying bad guys using his intellect and sometimes his wit.

The funny thing is, it works. We do believe it. The movie manages to show Blart as a heroic bumbler. This really comes through in the end, when we think we know what’s going to happen, but coincidence doesn’t work in the hero’s favor. What a concept! The hero is fallible! And yet, James as Blart, who co-wrote the film (which is produced, by the way, by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison company), still saves the day.

I started off by saying this movie was a slapstick comedy, and it is. The big slapstick moments get big laughs. But for me, what really makes the film, is James’ comedic talent. He moves his face just right and just subtly enough to elicit a laugh at an otherwise non-funny part. He does the same thing when delivering lines, pausing or enunciating so they become funny when they wouldn’t be in a less-talented comedian’s hands. James also has amazing control over his oversized body, and can maneuver it in ways that would make Jackie Chan proud; I’m reminded of a scene when he dances on the Segway.

The movie is worth the price and family-friendly. But I want to end on a different note. I want to give even more kudos to Kevin James, who uses Blart to rise above the familiar fat jokes seen so often in large comedians like Chris Farley and John Candy. James is a pretty good actor also, which he displayed in Hitch (he carried that movie), and his comedy isn’t just about his size. His characters and his comedy are funny in more dynamic ways.

Isaac Sweeney is a writer and educator in Virginia. Read his blog at http://www.wayswithwordsonline.com.



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