Paul Blart (Kevin James) is fat, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop doesn't want you to forget it for a single second. Of course, it's hard to lose sight of this fact, given that portly star James is in every scene, and seems to have packed on even more poundage since his days on the late CBS sitcom The King of Queens. Yet more fundamentally, his girth is an issue because it's at the center of almost every joke in Steve Carr's film. During an obstacle course test for the New Jersey State Police department, Paul has gross sweat stains in the man-boob and belly button areas. Depressed over his widowed life and medicating his hypoglycemia with constant sugar fixes, Paul chows down on mom's blueberry pie slathered with peanut butter ("It fills the cracks of the heart"). Carrying out his workaday routine as a security "officer" at a West Orange, New Jersey mall, Paul clumsily smacks into a minivan while riding his job-issued Segway personal transporter, has a fistfight with an overweight shopper, crashes through ceilings, and fails to fully hoist himself into (and then causes to collapse) a store air duct. Then, in his off-hours, he drunkenly flails his enormous frame about a dance floor. It's neither new nor objectionable for comedians to use their plus-sized bodies to elicit laughs. But in Paul Blart: Mall Cop, it's the only strategy employed, and very rarely effectively. James is a deceptively graceful physical presence, a quality which usually lends an added dimension to his pratfalls, and there's certainly a few choice moments throughout this headlining vehicle in which he gets to flaunt that deftness, such as a home video of him sexily demonstrating his Segway-driving skills on the sidewalk in front of his Jersey home. Unfortunately, even the sight of James performing awkward dance moves or attempting super-cop slides and somersaults quickly wears thin, largely because director Carr - working from James and Nick Bakay's beyond-formulaic script - seems to think that repeating the same joke ad nauseam is enough. Whereas James has often exhibited sharp verbal timing and a knack for amusing line readings, here the focus is so squarely placed on fat-guy-flops-around incidents that any semi-imaginative moviegoer can probably envision most of the film's signature moments without entering the theater.

As for that wispy connective tissue that occurs in between instances of James acting the fool - the nominal term, "plot," is something of a stretch - it has to do with long-ridiculed Blart showing he's got the skills to be a law enforcement superman when his mall is seized by a band of thieves. This necessitates action-movie derring-do of a wannabe-ridiculous sort, as Blart takes down his villainous X-Games-ish adversaries with ho-hum maneuvers - Paul Blart can't even properly pull off a slow-mo hockey-stick-to-the-crotch shot - and equally dull quips. Given James' gusto, a few random bits inevitably stick, such as Blart surreptitiously navigating a bank's rope line, and the star's geniality unquestionably keeps the material from sliding into cheap raunchiness. Yet any inventively daring impulses, which might have launched the story into absurd realms, are consistently stymied. Rather than true lunacy, it's niceness that proves the order of the day, a lukewarm family-friendly innocuousness that positions the film alongside Carr's other kid-gloves duds (Daddy Day Care, Are We Done Yet?) as well as Cedric the Entertainer's similar chubby-goofball-turned-hero groaner Code Name: The Cleaner.

James gets no help from his supporting cast, with Keir O'Donnell (as the lead baddie), Jayma Mays (as the de facto love interest), and Raini Rodriguez (as Blart's encouraging daughter) combining to produce absolutely zero chuckles. The proceedings' general air of ho-humness, however, is less the byproduct of any individual performance than it is of a screenplay which, over the course of a lethargic 91 minutes, generates none of the requisite witty energy that might help overshadow its mind-numbing predictability. Instead of using a schematic template for out-there antics or random riffing, even in the mainstream-accessible manner of the comedy of Adam Sandler (whose Happy Madison productions are behind this cinematic throwaway), the film embraces its conventionality with a relish that comes off as baffling, especially as the number of dead silence-provoking scenes (frequently punctuated by jabs at unattractive and/or overweight people) begin to pile up. Harmlessly humorless, Paul Blart tepidly goes through its motions, but that doesn't mean you have to.
categories Reviews, Cinematical