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paul_blart_mall_cop01In this Year of the Recession much has been written about the impact of a slowed economy on Hollywood. Jonathan Taplin of Film In Focus reports that “last year the Sundance Film Festival reported 3,624 feature film submissions composed of 2,021 U.S. and 1,603 international feature-length films. Assuming they all expected to make it to a theater that would mean 69 films released each week… we must acknowledge that there are too many feature films being made in America.” Here, here Jonathan. Let’s start with Paul Blart Mall Cop.

When we first meet Paul Blart (Kevin James) he’s about to do the physical portion of his State Trooper’s exam. He’s noticeably heavier, shorter and sweatier than the other candidates and sure enough, he doesn’t make it through. It’s back to the rather humbling life of a security guard—excuse me, security officer—at a New Jersey mall. He’s a love sick loser, unlucky at love and life. He “eats his pain” using “peanut butter to fill the cracks in his heart.” He has a crush on Amy (Ugly Betty’s Jayma Mays), a pretty girl who sells hair extensions at a kiosk in the mall called Unbeweavable. She’s out of his league, but he may be able to win her over when a group of thugs take over the mall and hold her hostage on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year.

Paul Blart Mall Cop was produced by Adam Sandler’s company Happy Madison Productions. They specialize in cheap and cheerful comedies usually banking on one recognizable star backed by Sandler’s reliable crew of regulars. This time Kevin James, best known as TV’s King of Queens, takes the lead. He’s a likeable sitcom actor who seems to have based Paul Blart on the kind of character John Candy focused on; the loveable guy beaten down by life.

It would have been interesting to see what Candy could have done with a character like Blart. Kevin James plays him as all doe eyes and physical humor, two things Candy excelled in, but Candy knew where the line between real life and caricature was and rarely ever crossed over. His characters had huge dollops of humanity that made them likeable no matter how badly they behaved. James isn’t quite that skilled. In his hands Blart isn’t a real person, just a collection of traits that are supposed to add up to someone that the audience will care about. Trouble is, we don’t. We don’t care about him or the predictable story.

James does pull off some impressive physical work. For a big guy he’s sprightly, not Chris Farley agile, but his stunts are the movie’s best gags. The scene where he goes all Rambo in the mall’s Rainforest Café provides a glimmer of hope for the rest of the movie, but alas, it doesn’t sustain.

Paul Blart Mall Cop is essentially a sitcom played out to feature film length. Unfortunately there aren’t enough laughs or interesting characters to justify the extra hour.

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