The thin comic appeal of Kevin James is laid on a bit thicker in Paul Blart: Mall Cop, his first solo star vehicle for the big screen. As a chunky loner-loser who can never pass the New Jersey State Police exam and never get the girl, James practically channels John Candy at his most sympathetic in this not-a-real-cop comedy.
“Detect, deter, observe, report” is the mall cop's motto. But Blart, a lonely single dad smitten with the blonde who sells hair extensions at a kiosk (Jayma Mays), always goes the extra mile, even when elderly customers run him over with their scooters and obese women give him a beat-down or generally abuse him because of his lack of real authority.
Blart instructs a rookie in the ways of the job, “giving the illusion that you have a gun” and the like. He is a master of the West Orange Pavilion Mall and of his steed, a Segway. James' balletic mastery of the vehicle for this role (he co-wrote the script) is easily the best thing about Mall Cop. The Segway, a sight gag itself, becomes an extension of the portly Blart's persona — underestimated, able to take a licking and keep on ticketing.
James, a graceful fat funnyman in the John Belushi/Jackie Gleason mold, never really transcends the thin story that this lightweight and family-friendly comedy gives us.
The movie is about a mall robbery with hostages. Blart must fend off trigger-happy Jersey SWAT cops led by the guy who bullied him in high school (Bobby Cannavale) and pick off a reindeer-named pack of skateboard-riding robbers, rescue the girl and save the day. Yawn.
The big man finds big laughs in his character's mall-savviness, his self-deprecating use of his girth (he's the butt of his own butt jokes) and his many Segway moments.