After wisely affixing himself to Will Smith (“Hitch”) and Adam Sandler (“I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”), Kevin James rides solo in “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” an almost shockingly amateurish one-note-joke comedy on which the star also shares writing and producing credit. Seemingly designed to facilitate mall marketing and retail tie-ins, the movie itself has only one consistent strategy — namely, capitalizing on James’ adeptness at hurling his sizable bulk around. It is, pardon the expression, an extremely slim approach, which should yield quickly diminishing returns after a more solid opening than most actual malls are seeing in this economy.
Having successfully made the comic-to-actor transition on the sitcom “The King of Queens,” James possesses an inherent sweetness and an amiable-lug quality. Along with his penchant for pratfalls, there are hints of the late Jackie Gleason in him — though with efforts like “Mall Cop,” any similarities will pretty much end there.
Directed by Steve Carr (“Daddy Day Care”), the movie is so shoddily edited that there are glaring gaps in the action, including a chase sequence that begins within the mall and suddenly, inexplicably, winds up on the roof. The same goes for a left-field twist involving the protagonist’s daughter, just to name a few of the “Huh?” moments, as if somebody decided trimming the fat was the only way to make this food-court flotsam palatable.
The premise ostensibly hopes to spoof “Die Hard,” with rejected state trooper applicant-turned-security guard Paul Blart (James) as the “man on the inside,” forced to defend a New Jersey mall after high-tech thieves have seized control. While Paul tools around on a Segway, the thieves navigate the shopping center on skateboards for no particular reason other than the fact that 12-year-olds — who clearly represent the target audience of this PG-rated endeavor — tend to like them.
A divorced dad who takes the expression “comfort food” to extremes that include slathering peanut butter on pie, Paul has set his eye on Amy (Jayma Mays, carving out an odd niche as the object of nerd affection, having played a similar role on “Heroes”), who staffs one of the mall kiosks. Naturally, she’s among the hostages taken, prompting Paul to seek creative ways to thwart the bad guys, who, fortunately, appear to have guns only when they have no opportunity to shoot at him.
Although produced by Sandler’s company, the project appears to have been made on a budget of the big-box-store variety. Still, even given the movie’s modest ambitions, it’s surprising to see a studio release in which details like continuity and coherence are such a conspicuous afterthought.
James still has potential as the kind of unorthodox leading man who resembles a sizable portion of America, and he has mastered a hangdog expression that makes him easy to root for. Enduring “Mall Cop,” though, only brings to mind the depressing scenario currently playing out in malls all over: Even with cut-rate goods at discount prices, the answer’s no sale.