“Paul Blart: Mall Cop”
Columbia Pictures
At Showcase and Quality 16

1 out of 5 Stars

“Get him! He’s in the Rainforest Café!” bellows the main bad guy. As the extreme skateboarding criminals close in on the eponymous Paul Blart, a mall security guard in the wrong place at the wrong time, the film’s purpose becomes perfectly clear. It’s the climactic final scene, but the only thing that really matters is whether or not Paul still has that Hallmark card for his sweetheart. A nicely lit, perfectly in-focus Hallmark card.

Aldo, Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret, Champs Sports and the now-defunct Sharper Image are among the many consumer-friendly merchants who flaunt themselves shamelessly in “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” a cloying advertisement disguised as a kid flick. Kevin James (“I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry”) plays Paul, a security guard with a constantly quivering lip. He’s a mall defender incapable of getting a “real” job as a sheriff.

But when Paul’s New Jersey mall comes under attack by hipster hooligans, Paul suddenly finds himself alone, tasked with saving several workers while using as many brand-name items as possible. With his compassion, cleverness and PG sense of humor, Blart’s here to save the day. In other words, this is “Die Hard” with a penchant for consumerism and pratfalls.

But, surprise surprise, “Mall Cop” is forgettable fodder. Granted, it’s a film for 10 year olds and the humor seldom goes beyond that of slightly rude. Food, falls and fights are what pose for humor here. But when no one in an audience of kiddies and their parents is laughing (which was apparently the goal here), the film’s in trouble.

Although accidentally funny on about five occasions, “Mall Cop” is awful. When James mumbles about peanut butter making him happier, he’s just milking the loveable loser routine. When he’s gazing at a pretty woman from his Segway, everyone can predict he’s about to run into that Chrysler. And when Blart gets harassing phone calls on his makeshift cell from an Indian teen, the viewer’s mind wanders off, struggling to find the humor in the situation.

But the film’s fascination comes in the politics of representation for mall-going America. And no, this isn’t reading too much into the film. If you actually see this (for whatever reason), you’ll notice “Mall Cop” is full of flagrant brand gallivanting and mall culture.

Seeing Sony products (Columbia’s parent company) strewed everywhere while the hypoglycemic Blart brandishes Pixy Stix to save his life, one can’t help but wish these items were integrated with the story in a way that’s not just an infomercial. James Bond at least made plot devices out of his cars and alcohol. And remember Tina Fey and her General Electric baiting on “30 Rock?” That’s how it’s done.

Failure as a comedy and lead actor showcase aside, “Mall Cop” is an interesting but depressing study in what happens when the studio calls all the shots. Not only is the climax of the film set in a Rainforest Café, but it features plenty of nice close-ups to let people know how kooky and pleasant dining there really is. Yes, you too can go to your local mall and have an exotic rainforest feast.

Sorry. Almost forgot this was a movie.

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