I went to see it this afternoon in Times Square, and was surprised to be joined by about 100 tourists, 60 of whom appeared to be junior high school students on a field trip. (Do you think they voted on which movie to see? Is that how this film is making its money?) I knew the basic plot, of course: Paul Blart can’t make it on to the New Jersey State Police, so he takes his job as a Segway-riding mall security guard very seriously. When the mall is overtaken by bad guys on Black Friday, he goes Die Hard on their asses. (And a little Bird on a Wire – there’s a scene in which he takes out a few guys in a Rainforest Cafe.) I also knew that the kids would laugh at things that I wouldn’t: The scene where a full-figured woman’s shirt comes up as she’s beating the crap out of Blart in Victoria’s Secret; the scene where non-drinker Blart challenges another man to a nacho-eating contest, bites into a pepper, chugs a margarita thinking it’s lemonade, dances, and crashes through a window; the scene where Blart knocks a bad guy unconscious by stuffing him into a tanning bed and slamming the roof on him repeatedly. (Wait, I don’t think even the kids chuckled at that last one.)
What I didn’t know is that had the comedy been as solid as the rest of the movie (“Hey you, scuba dooby do,” Blart actually says before launching an air tank into a man’s crotch), it would have been totally enjoyable: The film has a couple of clever twists when it comes to who’s behind the heist and one sweet love story. Paul Blart is a single father whose wife used him to get a green card then abandoned him and their daughter. The real reason he didn’t flee the mall (after he finished his closing-time game of Rock Band in the arcade and realized it’d been taken over), is that among the hostages is Amy (Jayma Mays, Ugly Betty’s Charlie), the salesgirl he’d had the courage to awkwardly flirt with until he humiliated himself with the margarita incident. Now, here’s the thing, and a big SPOILER ALERT: When Paul and Amy finally kiss at the end, with Survivor’s “I Can’t Hold Back” playing in the background, that’s when the kids in the audience actually applauded.
It was at that moment that I realized that maybe I’m not the only one ready to see Kevin James play a character that’s not 50 percent boob. He got the girl (Amber Valletta) in Hitch by being his sweet, and I’ll say it, sexy self. Why can’t he get the girl in another romantic comedy that lets him say the punchline but not be it? Am I the only one who thinks he’s ready for that, assuming he wants it? After all, he cowrote Paul Blart.