Nothing aired by WikiLeaks could possibly be more destructive to Sony’s reputation than the release of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,” the sort of movie that goes beyond mere mediocrity to offer possible evidence of a civilization in decline. Predicated, like the 2009 original, on the repeated spectacle of Kevin James falling on his face or colliding with a series of heavy objects, this tacky, numbingly inane sequel also functions as a veritable product-placement playground — only this time, the playground isn’t a New Jersey shopping mecca but rather the Wynn Las Vegas & Encore Resort, whose participation saved the studio some $4.2 million in Nevada tax credits. And a good thing, too, insofar as the result is expected to post respectable numbers while falling short of the first pic’s $146 million domestic B.O. haul.
Falling short, of course, is what that lovable loser Paul Blart (James) does again and again — quite literally, whether he’s being thrown off his Segway by a convertible, or conking out mid-conversation from hypoglycemia, a condition that regularly turns him into some sort of sugar-deprived narcoleptic. Emotionally, too, Paul’s life has taken a tumble: In the first five minutes, we see him and his g.f. (Jayma Mays, reprising her role for 15 seconds) saying “I do,” but she has second thoughts and divorces him six days later. Then his mother (Shirley Knight, reprising her role for 10 seconds) dies after being run over by a milk truck.
So much for the women in Paul’s life, with the exception of his loyal teenage daughter, Maya (Raini Rodriguez), who can’t quite bring herself to tell him that she’s been admitted to UCLA, which is a long way from Jersey. On the same day Maya gets her good news, Paul receives an invitation to attend a security officers’ trade convention in Vegas — or, more precisely, at the Wynn Las Vegas & Encore Resort — and decides to attend, thinking he might finally be recognized for the daring Black Friday rescue operation he pulled off back in ’09. No such luck, of course: The real reason he’s been invited is so that he can be repeatedly humiliated, slighted, knocked over, attacked by exotic birds, and occasionally, unintentionally flirted with (by a game Daniella Alonso), all while wearing a succession of hideous, tropical-colored polyester shirts.
Evincing all the freshness and imagination of its title, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” sets our roly-poly hero on a collision course with a sneering thief named Vincent (Neal McDonough in his umpteenth stock-villain role), who’s trying to divest the Wynn Las Vegas & Encore Resort of its priceless art collection — which you could see firsthand, of course, if you were to pay the Wynn Las Vegas & Encore Resort a visit. And while you’re there, you really might as well also go and check out that multimillion-dollar aquatic theater piece “Le Reve,” a performance of which Paul naturally has to disrupt while being chased by one of Vincent’s gun-toting, aim-challenged goons. Soon Paul will have to call on his sad-sack security-guard brethren (they include Loni Love, Gary Valentine and Shelly Desai) for backup, forming a sort of sub-Avengers league with Tasers and other non-lethal weapons.
By a chance turn of events, Paul winds up giving the trade convention’s keynote speech, allowing him to hold forth on the daily indignities and fleeting rewards of being a security guard. It’s the one mildly amusing scene in the script (penned by returning scribes James and Nick Bakay), which has been directed with bumbling anonymity by Andy Fickman (taking over for the original’s Steve Carr), and lensed with seemingly no coherent visual ideas beyond “Get the Wynn Las Vegas & Encore Resort in the background as much as possible,” even if it requires that a simple poolside conversation be shot with a wide-angle lens. Inevitably, perhaps, there comes the moment when Steve Wynn himself makes a pointless cameo (by all appearances, having just emerged from his tanning bed), though not necessarily more pointless than the moment when Paul finds himself in the same elevator with Mini Kiss.
James and Rodriguez have an appreciably sweet father-daughter rapport, and the drama of whether or not Maya should go to UCLA (which is basically held up here as the Wynn Las Vegas & Encore Resort of universities) helps tether the movie to a somewhat recognizable reality. But James — an inherently likable screen presence who, even without the “Paul Blart” movies, would have far too much Adam Sandler-produced crap on his resume (“Zookeeper,” “Grown Ups,” “Grown Ups 2”) — deserves a much better signature role than the one he’s written for himself. There are surely better uses of this actor’s gut, grin and Everyman appeal than the scene in which he has to lie down underneath a girl’s dripping ice-cream cone, or the one where he’s forced to hurl himself down a flight of stairs while encased in bulletproof luggage. “Help someone today,” Paul Blart urges his keynote listeners; with any luck, he’ll take his own advice and keep us from having to see him in a movie ever again.