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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Paul Blart ~ Mall Cop

Long ago and far away I had a good friend, Renée, who managed a shopping mall. It was an enormously stressful job with lots of bits and pieces everyday that could ~ and often did ~ go wrong. Pipes would break, shoppers would get into squabbles in the parking lot, staff would call in sick or just not show up to work. That last one was the hardest to deal with because the company that owned the mall was so cheap the powers that be would never think of giving Renée enough money in her budget to hire temporary labor from an employment agency when someone was a no-show. God forbid they would have to occasionally pay an agency a fee on top of the minimum wage they were offering their employees. That’s where I came in.

I had never planned to work at a mall, but Renée was desperately seeking someone to fill a spot one evening in the mall’s information booth, and she called me as a last resort. I’m not sure how many of her other friends she had already waded through in her address book before she got to me, but she sweetly pointed out that since I spent more time in the mall than most people spend in their homes, it made sense I would be the perfect person to be behind the desk in their information kiosk. Basically all I’d have to do was tell people where the restrooms were, rent out strollers to parents, and possibly sell a gift certificate or two. It wasn’t brain surgery. As a matter of fact, if anyone really asked me, it wasn’t work at all. It was fun and games. Renée promised me it would only be for one evening, for a mere four hours. How hard could it be; after all it was only going to be for four hours and then over forever, right? So began my thirty-five hours a week part-time job; I should have known.

One of the greatest parts of my info booth job was getting to know the employees at the various stores in the mall and then masterminding all kinds of shenanigans with them, usually to torment the
mall security guards. You’d have to know these guys to really understand why. There were two on my shift, Dave and Hal. Neither one of them could pass an IQ test for rocks if they tried. For example, one time an elderly lady came to my booth and asked if I would radio security to help her because she locked her keys in her car. Hal (aka “Barney Fife” to mall employees, but only behind his back) took immediate action and tugged on his belt while sizing up the situation. Just as he was considering whether to try the old ‘coat hanger’ trick, the woman noticed the back door on the driver’s side was unlocked. “That wasn’t supposed to be unlocked!” she exclaimed with excitement, but before she could say another word Hal opened the door, pushed the locking mechanism down, and slammed the door without taking a step away from his spot at the driver’s door. “Okay, where were we?” he asked absent-mindedly. Typical Hal behavior.

As for David, he had applied to the police academy four times and failed four times. Hey, they do have academic standards. You have to at least be able to write a ticket now and then. His other problem was he was about 5’5” tall, which didn’t help his case. It also made him a cranky little bantam rooster who always wanted to prove his manhood. As a security guard, he was determined to be the superhero around the mall, even if he didn’t know what he was doing. Once, there was a woman who (granted) overreacted to a smoldering cigarette burning in the outdoor ashtray by one of the mall exits. Jumping to the rescue, David grabbed the barrel fire extinguisher from the security office, dashed toward the exit, pulled the steel pin from the handle that prevented anyone from accidently spraying the siliconized potassium bicarbonate foam before it was meant to be released, and then, inexplicably, he threw the entire steel extinguisher through the glass door, tackled two teenage girls on their way outside, and covered them as a human shield while he waited for the “grenade” to explode. And waited. Until one of the girls kneed him in the crotch and the other pepper-sprayed him, while screaming “Perv!” at the top of her lungs.

If that sounds stupid, then you’re going to love
Paul Blart: Mall Cop, because this is exactly the kind of shtick you’ll find throughout this movie. I’m still reeling from the fact that it ended up the number one movie in the country this last week. No offense to star Kevin James (I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry), but there’s not much to Paul Blart: Mall Cop that doesn’t feel like an extended episode of a tv sitcom. That could be because the script was co-written by James himself, who authored several episodes of his signature tv series “The King of Queens” and by Nick Bakay, writer and sometime actor on “The King of Queens,” “Til Death,” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” (FWIW, he was the voice of Salem, Sabrina’s snarky cat).

In Paul Blart: Mall Cop, James plays a single father who, like David, has failed his bid to join the police force four times, in this case because he is overweight. Instead, he has become (obviously) a security officer at the West Orange New Jersey Mall, where he rides his Segway®, making the rounds daily to ensure the mall is free of shoplifters, rabble-rousers, and litterers.

It wouldn’t be much of a movie without a little romance, so shy Paul has a wicked crush on the gorgeous Amy (Jayma Mays; Epic Movie). We, as the audience, are not supposed to notice things like the fact that he is 100 pounds overweight and 14 years her senior; instead we should simply recognize how perfect they really are for one another even if they don’t actually have much interaction to give us evidence to that effect.

As for the plot itself, this is as skimpy as Amy Winehouse’s periods of sobriety. Basically, a gang of criminals evacuate the mall and take it over with a plan to steal credit card codes from each of the stores and then transfer oodles of money to an account in the Cayman Islands. Of course, leave it to Beaver, er, I mean Blart to be goofing off at the time and miss the entire flood of customers running out of the building. Soon enough though, he realizes he is trapped inside with the bad guys and it gets even more happily complicated when he finds out that among the handful of hostages they’ve taken in the bank on the first floor, they’ve got ~ who else? ~ his precious Amy. Now he has a reason to kick some ass instead of run for his life.

Do I even have to fill in the blanks where this is going?

The Chubster against the Ninja Nine, who do you think is going to win?

Just to add more insignificant threads to the story with no time to flesh them out, we are introduced
to Paul’s mother, played by two-time Oscar nominee Shirley Knight (The Other Side of the Tracks), here reduced to a bit player, and Paul’s junior high school tormentor, now SWAT Commander Kent, played by Bobby Cannavale (The Take), who is brought in as some bully whose raison d’être was to humiliate Paul as they grew up, and apparently still relishes the idea, but then for no apparent reason suddenly changes his mind. Frankly, hearing the stories of Paul’s childhood embarrassments would have made for a lot more laughs (we could hope) than what actually exists in Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop is not a bad movie by any means. I am sure we’ll see a sequel in another year or two and that will suck because it will only be rushed into production to cash in on the success of this one, which is a shame. I swear, if James would step down off his “movie star cloud” and consider going back to television this would be his perfect vehicle, Segway® and all.

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