If you’re one of the few people in the world who think that Ralph Drabble is funny, you might find “Mall Cop” a scream. Otherwise you’ll probably see the movie for what it is—a dreary string of clumsy slapstick sketches about a chubby sad-sack rent-a-cop who becomes a hero as the first line of defense when a bunch of thugs take over a suburban shopping mall. It’s presumably an outlet mall, because the movie is definitely a bargain-basement takeoff on “Die Hard.”
The movie is low-rent in every conceivable respect. The alternately schmaltzy and inane script reads like something that might have been written for Larry the Cable Guy, but it was actually tailored for Kevin James, a rotund TV comic whose previous big-screen work was confined to playing second banana to Will Smith in “Hitch” and stinking up the screen alongside Adam Sandler in “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” Perhaps to compensate for the latter, it’s Sandler’s Happy Madison production company that’s behind James’s starring turn as Paul Blart, the good-natured but timorous big guy who’s always wanted to be in law enforcement but was forced to remain a security guard when he failed the state police exam. A bumbler even in that job, he’s relentlessly teased—until, of course, he has the chance to be a hero when the mall’s seized by a gang that, in an apparent attempt at a humorous homage to “Reservoir Dogs,” bear the nicknames of Santa’s reindeer.
What follows is an avalanche of really dumb action comedy that aims to be a variant on the Inspector Clouseau formula but fails miserably. James doesn’t do much in foiling the takeover besides fall down a lot, and though he seems fairly adept at it for what Eric Cartman might describe as a big-boned guy, the shtick gets old fast. The decision to have most of the thieves be master skateboarders or gymnists is a juvenile one. And the “twists” in revealing the villains are dumb.
On the other hand, James evinces a potentially agreeable side in the material dealing with his pathetic homelife (he lives with his mother, played somberly by Shirley Knight, and his daughter Maya, played by Raini Rodriguez) and his immediate infatuation with a new kiosk salesgirl, Amy (Jayma Mays)—even if his habit of watching her on the mall’s security cameras is kind of creepy. Unfortunately, that promisingly human aspect of the character is smothered by the emphasis on comic violence (some of it pretty nasty), endless fat jokes both verbal and visual, really lame dialogue and miscalculations like a big drunk scene that’s grotesque rather than funny.
The weakness of the concept is matched by clumsiness in execution. Steve Carr’s direction is lax and ham-fisted, and it’s exacerbated by Jeff Freeman’s slipshod editing, which accentuates the flaws rather than concealing them. Their ineptitude throws the rest of the cast into a bad light. Though Knight and Rodriguez play things in an agreeably low-key manner, everybody else overdoes things—Mays, Keir O’Donnell as Blart’s trainee, Stephen Rannazzisi as his jerky rival for Amy’s affection, Bobby Cannavale as an obnoxious SWAT commander, Peter Gerety as Blart’s nervous boss. A particularly offensive stereotype comes from Adhir Kalyan as the boyfriend of the daughter of one of Blart’s mall pals, who keeps calling him on a borrowed phone.
Technically “Mall Cop” looks as though it was made on a pinched budget, too. Even Sandler’s earliest efforts were more professional than this.
We can always use talented oversized guys on the screen—people like Sidney Greenstreet, Laird Cregar and Victor Buono, to name just a few, have created indelible memories. Perhaps James can eventually join their ranks. But this sad, sloppy misfire is just one long pratfall.