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Non-Review Review: Paul Blart – Mall Cop

I didn’t know that you were allowed like comedic protagonists anymore. I thought they were all meant to be immature, or pathetic, or passive-aggressive, or petty, or emotionally damaged. The last honest-to-goodness sympathetic lead character I remember in a large comedy was Steve Carrell’s wonderful turn in the 40 Year Old Virgin, years ago now. Here we have another small-screen comedian trying to find room for himself on the big screen, in a relatively light and simplistic comedy about mall security. It’s like a family version of Observe and Report. Except not. Not at all.

Don't worry, he's trained for this... Probably...

Don't worry, he's trained for this... Probably...

And Kevin James has announced his presence as a leading man. Having served as a co-lead with Adam Sandler in the less-than-stellar I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, James appears to have earned his first big screen lead part – having been a leading man on the small screen for years now. He plays Paul Blart, a loveable loser with an inflated sense of his place in the world in the style of many of the classic and convential comedic leads. Does it deserve comparison to many of these quinessential comedies? Probably not, but it’s a diverting attempt.

Blart is a decent guy, held back by his hypoglycemia and his weight. Riding around the mall on his segway, he’s brutally ineffective at managing the chaos that ensues – he can’t even properly warn an old man in a wheelchair, let alone resolve an argument at Victoria’s Secret. Like many an ineffective leading man before him, his eyes and heart are drawn to a beautiful but poorly-characterised lady who would normally be unattainable to him. He doesn’t seek to to ‘score’ or ‘shag’ or indulge any of the shallow preoccupations that seem to drive lead characters in comedies these days – he’s looking for love. He lives with his young daughter and his mother, and tries to do right by both. He’s mocked for his ineffectiveness by the snootier mall employees (a pen salesman), but is quietly approciated by the lower classes of mall works – the people manning the carts in the centre of the aisles.

Sorry to labour the point, but he is – for all his ineffectiveness – a nice guy. And it is nice to see a movie about a nice guy.

None of the film’s humour is particularly smart or revolutionary (we’ve seen many of the setpieces executed before, and the movie isn’t afraid to aim for fart jokes from time to time), but it’s solid and consistent. By framing its central narrative as a low-rent spoof of Die Hard (hostage-takers disguising what they are really after from the police outside while a lone nobody inside the building fights back), it calls to mind an earlier generation of spoof films, like Airplane! It doesn’t really deserve the comparison, but it is good to see a spoof movie that isn’t as brain-numbingly bad as the Seltzer and Friedberg comedies. There are more than a few chuckles to be found in the movie if you are willing to roll with it – and the movie also demonstrates the occasional sharp subversion of an action movie convention (the eighties power ballet soundtrack, the long walk from the ambulance to the love interest, a dive from one moving vehicle to another).

The movie has more than its fair share of flaws – most of the cast really need acting lessons, particularly the villain (though, at least Bobby Cannavale seems to be acting bad on purpose), the film seems to get too obsessed with being a plausible action movie (playing everything too straight but its hero) and the ending is far too convoluted (if it’s a parody, it’s mishandled) – and there are far better and more cutting-edge comedies out there.

But, when all is said and done, the movie is… well, nice.

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