Overview: The bumbling, deluded mall cop is invited to Las Vegas, where he finds himself in the middle of a hotel art heist. Columbia Pictures; 2015; Rated PG; 94 Minutes.
Falling, Fallen, Fat: Maybe this marks me as the juvenile, immature mind that critics like to rail against when angrily panning films like this, but my favorite joke has always been seeing people fall down. Kevin James falls down better and more amusingly than any actor since Chris Farley. James is a rather gifted slapstick actor. This is the best tool in his arsenal, and more than once it made me laugh in Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. The problem is that a feature-length comedy will always need more than one joke. Just to the comedic left of that go-to gag is the implied absurdity of a notably large physique attempting athletic tactical moves. It’s less funny to me, but “large and in motion” is going to be funny to a lot of people for a long time. I don’t make the rules. Because of the prevalence of this particular set-up in the Blart series, both the original and now the sequel have absorbed a significant amount criticism for “fat shaming.” I don’t remember the first film, in fairness (never expecting a sequel, I saw no need to use up memory space), but I don’t think that’s a fair accusation here. There are maybe one or two moments that position Blart’s being overweight as the standalone focus; one of those — when an offscreen extra at a craps table shouts “The fat guy ruined it!” — isn’t even meant to be laughed at… I think. If anything, Blart and his security counterparts being unhindered, unashamed, and uninhibited by their large figures kind of reads as clumsily body-positive. And, well, unfunny, but not offensive.
A Big, Wet Blart: To me there is only one singular ruinous problem in the set-up of this film. Kevin James has no idea how to be funny in word form, but the movie allows him to use every scene as a screen test. There are stretches in Paul Blart 2 in which I was actually laughing out loud, but they kept getting interrupted. He just keeps talking, non-stop. The film’s credits, I was unsurprised to discover, list James as the primary writer. James borrows his friend Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison formula of throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, and this high volume results in a low rate of success. When the physical comedy works, Blart ruins it with his exaggerated reactions immediately thereafter. When supporting talent like Loni Love and Ana Gasteyer provide some of the movie’s funniest moments, Blart interrupts with a weird inability to control his volume. Worse yet, when he’s left on his own, Blart chases threads of poorly thought comedy that paint his character as unlikable — he is unabashedly condescending and needy to the point of abusive for his loved ones (character traits that sympathetically stifle a good performance from Raini Rodriguez, who plays Blart’s daughter Maya). And, because of the basic rules of film construction, his behavior isn’t just uncorrected, it’s rewarded. He gets to stay with his daughter as she goes to college and he wins the unfounded affection of a beautiful hotel manager, essentially through the negging techniques of sexist pick-up artists.
The Blart Legacy: Anticipating negative critical response, Sony chose not to screen Paul Blart for critics before its release. Currently, on Rotten Tomatoes, after only 38 reviews, the movie holds the dreaded 0% rating on the tomatometer. It’s pulling a Bucky Larson. I’m a bit perturbed by this and feel that Sony’s predictive reluctance to face the critical community is indicative of the inadvertent tyranny of standardized criticism, which I’ve discussed before. Because of criticism standardization, pursued by the blind hive of meme outrage, Paul Blart 2 may be unjustly remembered as 2015’s film joke. It shouldn’t be, particularly because 2015 still owns M*rtdecai (pardon the censorship, but I don’t want my name Google-search-associated with that movie any more than it has to be). Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen this year. It’s not even the worst movie I’ve seen this weekend. It might not even be the worst movie about a bad mall cop (Observe and Report is really bad, folks). The truth is, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is not abrasively or offensively bad. It’s just not good, but it’s wholly innocuous.