The ads for Paul Blart: Mall Cop make it appear like many other comedies prevalent in the film world today. You know, the kind of movie where a man-child whose emotional development stunted while in Junior High wreaks havoc on the rest of the grown up world. But this film has a lot more heart than the typical Adam Sandler/Will Ferrell fare, and also stands as one of the best parody films since the original Airplane.
Paul Blart (Kevin James) is a bit of a sad sack, beat up by life. He dreams of being a state trooper, but a bad case of hypoglycemia knocks him out of the running. He thought he found love with an illegal immigrant he made his wife, but she left him when her citizenship became legal (but she also left him with a pretty great kid as a trade-off). He would like to get to know the new girl running the hair extension kiosk at the mall where he’s a security guard a little better, but his being humiliated in her presence not once, not twice, but three times pretty much kills any chance of a relationship.
But when cyber thieves take over the mall on Black Friday and take Blart’s crush (Jayma Mays) hostage, they make the mistake of trapping Blart inside with them. To save his friends and potential paramour, he must become the hero he always wanted to be. He must take down the criminals from the inside, one by one, before anyone gets hurt.
It’s at this point that the film turns into a spot-on parody of the action/hostage film. It becomes Die Hard in a mall, with all the requisite silliness that concept entails. And it stands as a refreshing change from what passes as movie parodies these days.
Unlike films like Epic Movie and Disaster Movie, where the idea of parody is mimicking scenes from other films and shoehorning them into a feeble plot whether they fit or not, Paul Blart: Mall Cop builds a cohesive story around skewering the familiar tropes of the hostage film. It works as a film first, and as a parody second, where other modern parody films do not work at all.
While having a rather portly man playing the Bruce Willis part might be all you need for parody purposes, the script (written by James and Nick Bakay) mocks all the familiar aspects of the Die Hard franchise and its ilk. The bad guys’ plans are vague enough that it works if you don’t think about it too hard. A plot point is announced in the second act which you just know will come into play in the third. The cops outside are replaced by an obnoxious member of the hierarchy above them. Taunting ensues between Blart and the lead bad guy (Keir O’Donnell) over a radio, and so on. All with a humorous tweak to what you’d normally expect.
While this attention to detail works from a comedy perspective, the creators also ensure that the film works as a whole. It helps that Kevin James makes Blart such a sympathetic character. Paul Blart is awkward yet lovable. You become invested in him as a character and root for him to succeed. In another actor’s hands, this might not be the case. And the filmmakers should get credit for making the character’s third act heroics plausible. It would be easy to make him a total incompetent throughout the whole film, but that would have made the ending too far of a stretch.
Granted, Paul Blart: Mall Cop isn’t Oscar worthy in any imaginable aspect. But it is a film that shows more wit and intelligence than you would expect from a movie of this type. And if you are looking for an ideal parody of the Die Hard franchise, you might have just found it.