Kevin James, Jayma Mays, Raini Rodriguez, Keir O'Donnell, Shirley Knight
Kevin James, Nick Bakay
It's no secret that I enjoy Happy Madison films.
I'll be the first to admit that I cringed when I saw the movie poster for "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," the latest film from the Happy Madison team starring Kevin James ("I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry") as Paul Blart, a mild-mannered, Segway riding mall cop with a good heart, big belly, low tolerance for alcohol and nasty case of hypoglycemia.
Let's be honest, even the name stinks. No, really, it does.
"Paul Blart: Mall Cop?"
That's the best that everyone involved with the film could come up with?
It's almost as if they wanted the film to be another Happy Madison afterthought, like last year's dreadful "Strange Wilderness."
As much as I love Happy Madison films, even I'll admit that "Strange Wilderness" sucked.
A weird thing happened on the way to my expected trashing of "Paul Blart: Mall Cop."
I laughed. A lot.
Don't get me wrong, "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" is not brilliant cinema. There is a reason, after all, that it is a January film and not a December release.
This IS a Happy Madison film. If you've never liked them, then you won't like this one. If you have liked them, at least the better ones like the good majority of Adam Sandler's films plus "The Benchwarmers" or "The House Bunny," then there's a good chance you're going to enjoy "Paul Blart: Mall Cop."
You know how you can pretty much always tell a Tarantino film even if Tarantino himself didn't direct it?
The same is true for a Sandler film.
I've long admired Sandler's dedication to his circle of regular directors, writers, cast and crew. While I can't say for certainty that he created Happy Madison with them in mind, he's certainly taken great care to make sure that those in his circle have steady work.
The weird thing is that, even when Sandler himself isn't in the film, more often than not the films are entertaining and profitable.
"Paul Blart: Mall Cop," for example, made back its modest budget in its opening week.
How many films do that these days?
There have been misses, "The Master of Disguise" and "Strange Wilderness" being the most obvious.
However, out of the Happy Madison banner's 34 productions since it began in 1999, I'm guessing nearly 90% have managed to turn a profit.
That's Sandler's touch...he makes, with the exception of his own that command higher production budgets, modestly budgeted comedies with plenty of laughs, characters who matter, a warm heart and that, well, leave you happy at the end.
"Paul Blart: Mall Cop" follows this formula perfectly and, again, while it will never be a top reviewed film it is a solidly entertaining, funny and good-hearted film that will please fans of Adam Sandler, Kevin James and the Happy Madison banner.
In the film, Blart is a conscientious mall cop at a West Orange, New Jersey shopping mall getting ready for the busiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday.
The busiest shopping day of the year becomes a surprisingly satisfying hostage situation when the mall is taken over by a gang of thieves led by mall cop trainee Veck (Keir O'Donnell, "Sons of Anarchy"). Their scheme is impossibly inventive, and the band of thieves that Veck has assembled bring to mind the skateboarding baddies from Kevin Smith's "Dogma."
In other words, they're idiots.
Blart, who remained oblivious to the entire takeover while working off a hangover from the night before by playing a rousing game of "Guitar Hero," springs into action to save a beautiful cashier with whom he's smitten, Amy (Jayma Mays, "Ugly Betty"), his daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez) and, just as importantly, to protect his mall.
Is there any doubt really where this is going?
Nope, there isn't.
What's surprising is how fun it is getting to the expected resolution of Bart's heroics, the bad guys being defeated and the beautiful girl falling for the goofy, not so beautiful guy.
In a Sandler production, the good guys always win.
Realistic? Maybe not.
I like it.
Director Steve Carr ("Are We Done Yet?," "Daddy Day Care") stages "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" in such a way that the film's serio-comic action sequences are both funny and interesting to watch while Blart's transformation from chubby, adorable loser to action hero is believable enough that you actually care about Blart even in the midst of all the silliness.
James, who also co-wrote the script, is delightful as the well intended but frequently misguided Blart. While Blart is frequently funny, James wisely avoids turning him into a joke. He's the friend we all have...sweet, funny, good-hearted and who never seems to catch a break.
"Paul Blart: Mall Cop" is clearly a showcase for James's comedic talents, though the supporting players all complement him nicely.
Tech credits are better than usual for this type of comedy, most notably Russ T. Alsobrook's ("Role Models")imaginative camera work and Waddy Wachtel's energetic original score.
The Happy Madison record of producing modestly budgeted, entertaining comedies with a heart is safe and secure..."Paul Blart: Mall Cop" is on the job!
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic