It has been six years since Paul Blart: Mall Cop, a dull and silly Die Hard-in-a-mall comedy starring Kevin James, was a surprise hit. Never underestimate the box office potential of a January release date and an ad campaign in which a likable everyman falls down a lot. Was there a vast amount of untapped story potential in this concept? No. Did Sony think the box office results of the first would mean there was some small, lingering affection from audiences to be converted into easy money if a sequel was done on the cheap? Yes. So. Here we are. Dumb comedies get dumber, repetitive sequels all the time. Here’s another.
In the first Paul Blart, the big, pathetic security guard bumbled his way into saving his mall of employment from robbers. The new Blart is Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, instead of something like 2 Paul 2 Blart or Paul Blart: The Quickening or Paul Blart 2 the Streets. It takes the man away from his mall to a national convention of security guards in Las Vegas, where he and his daughter (Raini Rodriguez) eventually stumble upon a heist in progress and, surprise surprise, must protect the hotel. It’s another indifferently staged, overlit, lazily photographed underdog story of a guy no one likes somehow saving the day. The bland heist plot is played totally straight (Neal McDonough is the baddie) and everything else is theoretically amusing, but I’m not sure where or why. At one point Blart wrestles a bird. Later, he sees a guy eat a rotten banana. Huh.
Completely predictable and totally devoid of anything resembling a laugh, the empty, mindless movie left me with just one question. Is it better to have no jokes than bad jokes? Scene after scene passed by without any discernable punchlines, sight gags, or stupid asides. I just kept wondering why no one wrote jokes. Surely someone at some point would’ve seen dailies or a rough cut and gone back for reshoots or ADR that could punch up the airless and endless scenes. I mean, you could’ve at least gotten a Foley artist for some last minute flatulence and slide whistles. It still wouldn’t be funny, but at least there’d be something. It’s so lazily slapped together by director Andy Fickman, limply plotted by Nick Bakay and James himself, that it’s best viewed as a paycheck for all involved. And you don’t have to see it for the checks to clear.
By the end, pummeled by the total nothingness of the events on screen, I decided I was thankful no one tried too hard to make this movie funny, if only for the irritation I felt whenever I faintly detected the presence of humorous intent. Every beat is geared towards making Blart a pathetic figure of scorn. I think it’s supposed to make him sympathetic, but most running jokes are built on the premise that anyone who likes him is stupid or ridiculous. That’s not funny. It’s sad, like when his mother is killed off in the opening scene, run over by a speeding truck. Laughing yet? In one scene Blart gets into a fight with his daughter in a restaurant. She’s angry he’s overprotective. He’s eating the crunchiest bread ever baked. It goes something like this. She: “You never listen!” He: Munch. Munch. Munch. Laughing now?
Isn’t it hilarious that he has relationship problems, his mom was run over, his daughter’s pulling away, and he has problems with food? And no one likes him except other condescendingly presented oddballs, and even then only sometimes? There’s nothing that deserves a moment’s thought beyond relief the movie does, indeed, end. But there’s nagging ugliness – scenes glorifying use of force (Tasers, beanbag guns, and a vibrating fork) to take down suspects, a man policing his daughter’s love life above and beyond what’s appropriate, and an implication that fat people should only interact with other fat people – that’s not just empty, stupid, and unfunny, but leaves a nasty aftertaste, too. I saw the movie in a theater with the quietest audience I’ve ever heard. We sat there silently for 90 minutes, then glumly filed out.