It's the holiday season. A valiant everyman with a badge finds himself alone in a huge building seized by bad guys. They have hostages. Among them are our hero's love interest and several of her co-workers, including a cowardly sleazeball as despicable as the gun-toting villains. With the authorities forced to stand down, it's up to our man on the inside to navigate the superstructure's nooks and crannies, rescue the hostages and thwart the criminal mastermind by taking out his henchmen one by one.
This champion of justice may sound like Die Hard's John McClane, but I'm actually describing the awkward New Jersey security guard played by Kevin James (of King of Queens fame) in Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
Blart is a lovable sad sack. He lives with his mother and daughter (his wife bailed after getting her green card), has no romantic prospects, repeatedly flunks the police academy physical (held back by crippling hypoglycemia), and gets disrespected at work as a glorified hall monitor. He does have a cool set of wheels if your idea of burning rubber is pinning the speedometer of a Segway scooter at 12.5 mph. One day, things start to look up. Paul meets and stammers his way into a sweet friendship with Amy, a pretty young woman who runs a kiosk in the mall. But a pompous jerk quickly becomes a rival for her affection. In the wake of a colossal social blunder, Paul pops in a Barry Manilow cassette and wallows in self-pity.
Fortunately for this portly protector of public peace, the story doesn't end there. After emasculating Paul, the filmmakers reveal that he's not entirely Stay-Puft soft. A gritty, resourceful side emerges when high-tech thieves converge on the West Orange Pavilion Mall, evacuate it and execute a plot to nab $30 million by stealing retailers' credit card codes. Blart isn't exactly a kung fu master. And he doesn't carry a gun. But he's armed with a pledge to protect the mall and its inhabitants ("detect, deter, observe and report"). His resolve intensifies when he learns that Amy is one of the hostages.
Paul takes his job very seriously, which becomes clear as he trains a new recruit. Even when slacker colleagues tell him he's making them look bad, the 10-year mall veteran refuses to adjust his work ethic. He demonstrates bravery and selflessness in the call of duty, putting himself in harm's way when necessary. Paul's moral compass requires that he be polite, loyal and trustworthy. He also resists the temptation to lash out at people who are unkind to him, avoids alcohol (see exception below) and refuses to hit women, even in self-defense.
Paul's young daughter, Maya, is very sweet and encouraging toward her father. When she says she hates her mom for abandoning Paul, he gently tells Maya that she shouldn't because "She gave me you." A scene during the end credits affirms marriage. Paul's attraction to Amy is innocent, never turning sensual. Courage is rewarded, and the film suggests that bigger dreams come true when people do the right thing and have their mettle tested.
It's reported that a donut shop donates leftovers to the local mission. The bedroom of a young Indian man contains images from his culture, some of which have religious overtones.
Because Paul winds up with a teenage girl's cell phone, he gets a call from her pining, bare-chested ex-boyfriend, who is going through hormonal withdrawal. The young man describes his devotion for the girl in vaguely sexual terms. Then, assuming that Paul must be her new squeeze, he asks if he's "sweating over her right now."
During a nervous introduction to Amy, who sells hair extensions, Paul asks, "Do you do men? ... I mean, men's hair." Elsewhere, someone makes a snide remark about a push-up bra, and a sleazy guy notes that a girl is "into leather." A man and woman kiss. Snippets of classic rock and pop songs contain mildly suggestive lyrics (Survivor's "I Can't Hold Back," Eddie Money's "I Think I'm in Love," karaoke versions of Bon Jovi's "Runaway" and REO Speedwagon's "Take It on the Run," a ringtone of Rasheeda's "My Bubblegum").
This film combines lots of physical comedy and pratfalls with the intense threats and gunplay of a heist thriller. Fortunately, no one dies (or even bleeds) when attacks get personal and bullets start flying.
On the comedic side, Paul gets punched by a heavyset woman, and the pair grapple violently as he tries to protect himself without hitting back. In the process, her shirt is pulled up a bit, revealing her brassiere. Disrespectful children pelt Paul with plastic balls. A little dog refuses to stop chasing Paul's Segway, and gets run over by it. While driving his scooter through the mall, Paul gets distracted and slams into the back of a parked minivan. He also throws himself at glass doors (bouncing off) and misses badly when attempting to leap from one moving vehicle to another. Hypoglycemia causes Paul to land with a thud when his blood sugar drops. Under the influence of alcohol, he gets abusive with a guy singing karaoke, then tumbles through a glass window.
Other violent moments aren't meant to be funny. Knowing that Paul is trapped in a large air duct, a thug repeatedly stabs a sharp metal pole through the bottom of it, barely missing Blart. The duct collapses, knocking out a female crook. (Lucky for Paul it's accidental, so he doesn't violate his moral code about hitting a woman!) He knocks another assailant into a tanning bed and slams the lid down multiple times to immobilize him. A guy on a skateboard shoots at Paul. Guns are waved around threateningly, though not by Paul, who outsmarts his enemies without the benefit of a weapon. Two men crash through the walls of a glass elevator; one falls out. Soon after, men smash through a skylight on the roof and battle after a soft landing (punches, grappling, head-butts, etc.). A gas explosion blows up a section of the mall. The verbally and physically abusive ringleader threatens to kill Amy and "put a bullet in [Paul's] head."
Drug and Alcohol Content
The lone instance of social drinking has redemptive value. Paul is vocal about the fact that he doesn't consume alcohol, but he visits a bar-and-grill and mistakenly guzzles a pitcher of margaritas, thinking it's lemonade. He gets loopy, consumes some fruity mixed drinks and proceeds to embarrass himself. Although this scene generates laughs from Paul's suppressed inhibitions at the outset, it leads to consequences and regrets. Amy loses respect for him upon seeing him lose control and behave inappropriately. And the next day he realizes he got a tattoo while drunk—a lasting reminder that choices made while intoxicated aren't easily undone.
It doesn't usually take long to know what a movie thinks of its hero. Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a perfect example. In the opening scene, while running an obstacle course alongside a chiseled bunch of wannabe Jersey state troopers, Kevin James' chubby, gum-cracking misfit does a graceful, acrobatic flip that screams "dream sequence." But it isn't one. It's as if James and director Steve Carr are saying, "Don't underestimate this guy. He may be the butt of fat jokes and Chris Farley-esque pratfalls, but there's more to Paul Blart than meets the eye. He's no schlub."
Indeed he isn't. Paul is a decent, clean-living guy with a clearly defined sense of right and wrong. He's committed to his family and to his job. Rather than laughing at him, we feel for him.
In addition to boasting an ethical hero with no significant character flaws, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is written in such a way that kids and teens can identify with and draw strength from its hero. Paul is every awkward, bullied, marginalized boy who feels helpless to change his situation. In fact, most of the adults in this movie are teen archetypes—emotional adolescents in grown-up clothing. The mall could just as easily be a school. And amid the comings and goings of the faceless masses, insecure Paul tries to pull straight A's, connect with the cute girl who caught his eye and endure the abuse of not-as-cool-as-they-think-they-are peers who look down their noses at him. His only encouragement comes from home. And mean-spirited bullies (some armed as heavily as Paul's onscreen rivals in this post-Columbine culture) seem to be lurking around every corner. Families who choose to see this film should take time to explore its surprisingly rich subtext.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a PG action-comedy that doesn't go out of its way to offend viewers wanting to root for a likeable underdog. It's not cruel. It's not cynical. And even though the comedy isn't exactly highbrow, it doesn't take the low road with cheap flatulence jokes and kicks to the groin. Were it not for a smattering of profanity and a few sexual double entendres, this could've been that fun and funny (family) version of Die Hard you've always wished somebody would make!