‘Paul Blart: Mal Cop’: Mechanical plot doesn’t let Kevin James really fly

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, January 16, 2009 6:13pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The dreams and disappointments of a shopping-mall security guard — excuse me, security officer — might be the stuff of a Robert Altman film, or an Arthur Miller play. And in the opening scenes of “Paul Blart: Mall Guard,” it actually looks as though the movie wants to add kitchen-sink realism to its comedy.

The moment passes. This is a vehicle for “King of Queens” star Kevin James, produced by Adam Sandler’s company. Raw reality it ain’t.

James, who’s seen big-screen success in a couple of buddy pictures (“Hitch,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”), goes it solo here. Paul Blart is a lonely guy who lives with his mother (Shirley Knight) and his adolescent daughter, the product of a short-lived marriage.

Even the marriage wasn’t much. The ex married Paul to get a green card, then dumped him.

This sad sack is enamored of a young woman (Jayma Mays, who looks too young to pair up with Kevin James) working at a mall kiosk. But when he embarrasses himself at a workplace happy hour, it looks as though his chances are scotched.

Ah, but when robbers enter the mall and take hostages, Officer Blart is the only law-enforcement representative on the scene. Could this be a chance at redemption?

Kevin James has the spirited physical grace of a John Belushi or Jack Black; his tubby body doesn’t slow him down. In fact, he gleefully throws himself across desks or along slippery floors.

James also squeezes all the comic possibilities out of riding his Segway through the corridors of the shopping mall. He brandishes his cop-stache with great pride, too.

More importantly, the actor has a gentle quality that makes him approachable; he doesn’t seem like a Hollywood guy trying to play a loser. This gives the movie a low-key charm, different from, say, an Adam Sandler comedy.

Unfortunately, director Steve Carr banks everything on the hostage situation, so the picture becomes mechanical. Too bad — there’s a ripe character waiting to climb out of this movie. And he rides a Segway.

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