Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Paul Blart: Mall Cop


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

If you've seen the trailers for Paul Blart: Mall Cop, you're probably expecting a high octane wacky comedy full of fat jokes and slapstick violence. It's no wonder early audiences have come away dissatisfied. Whilst all of these elements are present to an extent, they're handled with an ambiguity and intelligence rare in the genre, and the result is a gentle, family-friendly comedy adventure with serious undertones. It all centres on a great performance from Kevin James, whose Paul Blart, for all his absurd circumstances, is always first and foremost a human being.

Paul Blart is a career security guard in his local mall. He has always dreamed of becoming a police officer, but his hypoglycaemia means he's never quite made it through the fitness test. He's also middle aged and overweight, a lonely single father who is the butt of much cruel humour from his less sensitive co-workers.

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True, he takes his job far too seriously and he makes a fool of himself when he develops a crush on a new kiosk worker, but he's a likeable, ordinary guy. However, when a gang of criminals takes over the mall and he finds himself the only person in a position to intervene, he has to re-examine his priorities and take on challenges far scarier in reality than they ever could have been in his fantasies.

Truth be told, it only gets so scary. This is very much a family-friendly movie, so there's minimal use of guns (though kids may be upset at seeing a stuffed penguin get shot) and bad guys are conveniently knocked out and tied up rather than killed. But there are pleasures to be found here for the action fan, too. Paul's unlikeliness as a hero means that some routine action scenarios take on a whole different atmosphere. His health problem contributes to the tension but is not overused, and there's no unlikely metamorphosis whereby he suddenly discovers hidden physical prowess. In order to succeed, he has to use his brains, and he has to get lucky. The viewer is always aware that his luck might run out.

There's a lot of smart humour at the expense of action movie expectations, but in order for the comedy to have something to play off, the central story has to be quite formulaic. The criminals often lose simply because they're stupid, like some of the film's early comedy sequences. But the comedy here is always interesting, because it's played just at the edge of what's acceptable, at the boundary between humour and real discomfort.

When Paul falls over, we want to laugh but we also feel bad for him. It's a line Adam Sandler, who co-produced here, trod perfectly in Punch Drunk Love, and this film sometimes has a similar atmosphere, though it's more gently played. It makes us think about the serious concerns that make comedy possible, as well as highlighting the funny side of everyday life, especially the ridiculous macho power games played by the various characters who bully our hero.

With its emphasis on universal values like honesty and courage, and with its willingness to present a figure too often the object of comedy as its agent, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a great film for kids of all ages, especially if they've suffered from being pushed around a bit themselves. In the end, it's about a much more low-key kind of heroism. With so much recent comedy built around spite, it's rather pleasing to see this more ingenious approach to humour, genuinely risk-taking and surprisingly successful.

Reviewed on: 26 Mar 2009
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A career security guard who always dreamed of greater things finds himself put to the test when criminals take over the mall where he works.
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Director: Steve Carr

Writer: Kevin James, Nick Bakay

Starring: Kevin James, Keir O'Donnell, Jayma Mays, Raini Rodriguez, Shirley Knight, Stephen Rannazzisi, Adhir Kalyan

Year: 2009

Runtime: 91 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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