From my understanding, Paul Blart: Mall Cop didn’t set the cinema world on fire back in 2009. It did make a ton of money (and did leaps and bounds over its counterpart, Observe and Report), but from the reaction to the film from both critics and the public, there didn’t seem to be much demand for a sequel. But money speaks louder than words in Hollywood, and since Adam Sandler (through his production company, Happy Madison) likes to keep his good friends employed, I guess Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 was inevitable. And though the premise for the follow-up is sound (having the main character leave the confines of his world to explore new territory is a staple for sequels to movies like this), adding a new chapter to a film that ran mostly flat doesn’t make for a better movie.
Kevin James, along with co-writer Nick Bakey (the duo who also wrote the original) must have thought they had a great idea in sending the adorkable mall cop, Paul Blart, to Las Vegas for a security guard convention that just coincidentally happens to fall on the same weekend criminal mastermind, Vincent (Neal McDonough), plans to steal several pieces of art from the hotel. But James sticks to the exact format he developed in the first film, and that’s where my main issue with the movie lies. As advertised, the original was marketed as a sort of goof on Die Hard — Die Hard in a mall, so to speak. However, there was so much fluff prior to the actual infiltration of the mall (and subsequent hostage taking), it’s hard to care about the results of Paul Blart’s heroics when it finally gets to that point. The same happens here — James spends so much time filling us up on appetizers, by the time the main course arrives, we can’t enjoy it the way we should. In both instances, Paul Blart’s character growth (which is essentially being forced out of his comfort zone to do what’s necessary despite his weight and insecurities) doesn’t depend on the outcome of his heroics, as most things have already been resolved before he’s forced into action. It essentially turns the “villains” and their heists moot and rather useless — much like the sequel, since Paul’s issues were resolved quite nicely at the end of the original film.
To counteract this happy ending, James resets Paul’s world by dissolving his marriage to Amy (a missing Jayma Mays) and killing off his mother (Shirley Knight) with a milk truck (HA! Get it? Because milk trucks don’t exist anymore) in the first five minutes of the movie. Paul is once again a lonely, insecure security guard, which leads to a subplot involving his daughter, Maya (Raini Rodriguez), and her acceptance into UCLA that feels somewhat manufactured. Not only does Rodriguez barely look over thirteen, but her refusal to tell him about it right away out of fear of her leaving might cause him to reach his tipping point is thrown in there to try and drum up more conflict. However, much like almost all of the conflicts in the film, this one is resolved before he discovers she’s been kidnapped by Vincent and his goons. And that’s just one example of how James mistreats his antagonists. To have McDonough wasting away in the background as Paul overcomes all of his issues without him is a real disservice to the actor and his prowess as a compelling foil. Not only that, but James misses a major opportunity to really explore how Vincent and his team go about stealing all of the artwork because he spends so much time on Paul’s weaknesses and failed attempts to be liked.
Which is odd, since it’s extremely hard not to like Kevin James. Even as the jokes miss far more than they hit (mostly because he regurgitates a lot of the jokes from the original, or they simply feel far too lazy), James emits this aura that makes it hard not to care about him or his circumstances. There is no denying that he’s a really nice person, someone you want to be friends with — the kid you want to hang out with because no matter how many mistakes they make, he’ll always come through for you in the end. He may be a doofus, but he’s our doofus, so to speak. James knows this, and he doesn’t shy away from letting us know that, utilizing every aspect of his personality in one of the better subplots of the movie.
As evidenced by dozens of films and television shows (including James’s own King of Queens), there seems to be a penchant in Hollywood for chubby guys to somehow win over (and in most cases marry) the hot chick who’s way out of their league. Paul wins the girl in the original film by being his own, likeable, teddy-bear self. Here, the girl in question, hotel manager Divina (Daniella Alonso), slowly falls in love with him, even as Paul completely brushes her off by telling her he’s not ready for a relationship. At first she thinks it’s rude of him to think she would even have the slightest interest in him, but as the movie progresses, every time she talks to him, her affection for him grows steadily deeper. This is how I would describe our relationship with Kevin James as an audience member — the more we see of him, the more we like him, which helps us rise above a lot of the flaws in his movies and keep coming back for more.
It also explains why Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 stays afloat as watchable. There are some very enticing kernels of a much better movie screaming to get out, and had James followed the structure of the film he’s emulating a little closer, there would have been more possibilities to inject all of the stories with more depth, helping to make the plot more cohesive and keep from having to rely so heavily of the oafishness of the talented, but lost, star.
My Grade: B-
Next week, new movies include The Age of Adeline, Little Boy, and The Water Diviner. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.