The road from TV star to movie leading man is loaded with ill-conceived films. Case in point -- Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Kevin James's first solo star vehicle finds the funny fat man as the titular security officer, a wannabe New Jersey State Cop who -- due to severe hyperglycemia -- has yet to complete the obstacle course required to earn the badge. However, until he passes the test, he works diligently at the mall -- even though he seems to, literally, fall down on the job every five minutes. His work gives him his only sense of self-esteem, mostly because he's been heartbroken since his green-card-seeking wife abandoned him. One day, however, his far-from-demanding occupation forces him to act heroically when a group of bad guys invade the mall, robbing the stores and taking hostages -- including his tween daughter, Maya, and Amy, a co-worker he wants to date.
Because this aims to be a family-friendly action comedy, the filmmakers don't want to scare off kid viewers. So, rather than making the bad guys gun-toting psychopaths, they're presented more like a cross between Tony Hawk and the acrobatic Asian from the Ocean's movies -- they leap and tumble through the air, often flying from floor to floor on skateboards or bikes. Blart figures out how to incapacitate them using items at the mall such as a tanning bed, hockey equipment, and the décor of the Rainforest Café. Granted, these scenes work on the page, but the execution is as flat and dull as director Steve Carr's other family-oriented films like Daddy Day Care and Rebound. Besides, the film spends the first half of its running time showing what a loser Blart is, establishing his buffoonery with a series of humiliations that culminate at a party where he drunkenly embarrasses himself in front of Amy. This set-up goes on for so long that many younger viewers -- and a few older ones -- might check out of the movie altogether before the action scenes even start.
Part of the problem may be that Kevin James can't quite tug at heartstrings like other funny fat guys. Paul Blart would have been a perfect role for Chris Farley, who knew how to throw his massive bulk around for comedic effect, but still got you to laugh both "with" and "at" him simultaneously because his characters liked themselves; they may have been pitiful, but they were never self-pitying. James looks into the camera with droopy, sad eyes, practically begging the audience like a puppy for both sympathy and love. He had supporting turns in box-office hits like Hitch and I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, but on his own for the first time with Paul Blart: Mall Cop, James plays it safe. And, short of unfunny, safe is the worst thing a comedian can be.