I’ve been ripping on movies with the “Happy Madison Production” label a lot lately but with Paul Blart: Mall Cop, I actually found one I enjoyed. Think of Paul Blart: Mall Cop this way, it’s what Die Hard would have been had John Candy starred in it. More succinctly, it’s a blend of comedic styles packaged to spotlight the talents of a single comedian (in this case, former King of Queens star Kevin James) and pits him against the bad guys. As an added bonus for parents, the film is rated PG and the humor isn’t centered on bodily functions. There’s no really bad language, yet the film still maintains an edge to it. James, a solid plot and the Segway Paul rides most of the time, make this film work.
Paul Blart (James) has flunked out of the police academy several times. However, it’s not due to effort. As we watch him on the final obstacle course we see a determined man who, despite his weight, still puts in a respectable showing . . . until his blood sugar drops and he passes out just shy of the finish line. Because Blart is Hypoglycemic, he has to swallow several Pixie Stix a day to stay alert. It is his constant self medicating through snacking that has lead to his troublesome weight problem.
Ten years have passed since his first failed police test and now he takes his job as a security guard at a New Jersey mall waaay to seriously. While the rest of his co-workers realize their mall security guards because that’s the only work they could get, Paul acts as though he’s guarding the Green Zone in Bagdad or something. As serious as he tries to be, he often ends up looking like Barney Fife. This is best illustrated when he tries to ticket an old man on a motorized three-wheeled scooter and the man not only ignores him but drags him through the mall.
Life isn’t much better for him at home. Blart lives with his mom (Shirley Knight) and teenage daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez), and the looks they flash him tell it all: he’s lonely (since his overweight immigrant wife took off after he made her legal), his jokes fall flat, and yet they love him anyway. James co-wrote this with Nick Bakay (The King of Queens, ‘Til Death) and it’s no surprise they put a little romantic twist into the proceedings. His family tries to get him a date through a computer matching service but find no takers. Fortunately, there’s a woman named Amy (Jayma Mays) running a hair extension kiosk called “Unbeweavable” and Paul finds himself immediately smitten. His attempts to go from unrequited love to first base constitute one plot prong. The other involves a new guard named Veck Sims (Keir O’Donnell) whom Blart takes under his wing and tries to teach, despite eye-rolling that every teen in the audience can identify with. The third prong develops when a team of Extreme Sports athletes (X-Games bikers, skateboarders, and free runners) take over a mall, led by none other than Veck. They’ve taken hostages and Blart finds himself alone in the mall after everyone else was cleared out because he was playing video games in a store he was asked to lock up.
The radical stunts these men and women perform are real; there are no wires or CGI involved. The stunts are performed by Extreme Sports athletes, including skateboarders Mike Valley and Jason Ellis, BMX racers Rick Thorne and Mike Escamilla, and free runners Victor Lopez and Natascha Hopkins. Behind-the-scenes footage shows them doing their thing and it’s truly amazing.
However, as good as the Extreme Sports athletes are, Paul Blart: Mall Cop remains Kevin James film. The comedian goes through a fairly broad range of emotions and he makes you want to root for his character. The more people make fun of Blart, the more the audience wants him to succeed. Yes, the film is somewhat formulaic but its decent family entertainment and gives Kevin James a real chance to shine.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio and transferred to a BD-50 via AVC/MPEG-4 codec. Scenes in the mall tend to be a bit hazy but I think that may be because of the mall lighting. Exteriors and home interiors look solid and vibrant. Colors in those “soft” scenes appear not as saturated, and it’s harder to appreciate the level of detail as well. Fleshtones are okay but again, the level of detail isn’t as good as one might expect.
The audio is stronger, a robust English or French 5.1 Dolby TrueHD that really rocks during the action scenes when the rear speakers come alive. There’s a nice spread across the front speakers and good involvement of the effects speakers throughout. Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop comes with a few special features:
• Audio Commentary – Kevin James and Producer Todd Garner offer a commentary that isn’t listed on the back cover but is a nice bonus. The pair has a lot of fun but remember to give audiences a blend of anecdotes and behind-the-scenes info. Like, how about learning that Kevin James ripped a hamstring on his first day of shooting and toughed it out for the rest of the film.
• Deleted Scenes (12:30) – There are ten in all and might be the best extra on the disk. They include a snowglobe attack on Blart by the bad guys plus several scenes in which the plot or action is explained. The best scenes are extended ones that show Blart interacting with his family (as they coach him while they film a dating video) and when Blart “rescues” a lost child for an unappreciative mother (“And now give the fake cop a hug, Jacob”).
• Featurettes (49:50) – In “Kevin James: Not Your Average Mall Cop” we get a mini making-of feature that goes behind the scenes and shows footage while James talks about the genesis of the script and what he wanted in a vehicle. In a number of smaller segments (“Action Sports Junkies,” “Stunts,” “The Mall,” “On Set with Mike “Rooftop” Escamilla”) we get plenty of interviews with the real Extreme Athletes and plenty of behind-the-scenes footage of their stunts. And in “Fun on the Set” we see just that. Rounding out the bonus features are a couple of staged extras (“Mike vs. Mall Cop,” “Mall Cop Response”), “Thoughts with Kevin James,” and “Sugar.”
• A Digital Copy which plays in a PC, PSP, Mac, or iPOD.
• BD-Live: Cinechat, which allows you to send onscreen messages to friends who watch the film the same time as you.