Tasteless and slow and tonally uneven and all the other bad adjectives there are, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is way too few ideas short of an actual feature, a couple of Segway jokes stretched to an hour and a half running time. It has a coherent plot and a laugh or two, but still, even losers of Paul Blart level have better things to do than spend time with this one.
The actual plot, in which Paul (Kevin James) must pull himself together and defend his beloved mall against bad guys, takes forever to get going, as scene after scene awkwardly sets up exposition and jokes that will pay off, meagerly, later in the story. A completely unnecessary prologue showing Paul at training camp for real cops gives way into an awkward dinner scene, in which Paul's daughter (Raini Rodriguez) and his mom encourage him to try online dating. At work Paul patrols the mall endlessly on a Segway, flirts awkwardly with kiosk girl Amy (Jayma Mays), fails to break up a series of conflicts, and most painfully, accidentally gets drunk while hanging out with co-workers. Finally, the heist story gets going-- time for some real laughs!
Actually, time for more fat jokes, pratfalls and forced dialogue, as Paul unconvincingly taps into his inner Bruce Willis and saves the day. He's up against some black-clad X-Games rejects, who ride bikes and skateboard and jump off things in the mall for what seems to be the sole purpose of adding interest to the movie. The mastermind turns out to be Paul's slacker trainee Veck (Keir O'Donnell), who's holding hostage Amy, a dopey pen salesman (Paul Rannazzisi), a few other people, and however improbably, Paul's daughter.
The movie eventually heads toward a Home Alone kind of resolution, with the SWAT team and cops sequestered outside due to some silly plot devices, and Paul left alone with a mall full of resources to beat the baddies once and for all. And there's a mild satisfaction in the finale precisely because it's a Home Alone ripoff, and the pranks are fun to watch, even when you know you've been suckered into watching something that was original 19 years ago.
Bobby Cannavale shows up in a role that would be a cameo if he were more famous, and he's funny as Paul's former high school nemesis, but most of the actors seem to have been instructed to get out of James's way. It's too bad the script and the direction didn't get the memo. Scenes that should end on one punchline drag on forever, and all the attributes intended to make Paul a "lovable loser" type turn out either creepy or genuinely sad. Thanks to the interminable set-up, when it finally comes time for Paul to save the day and be a hero, we've already spent too much time with a guy we wouldn't want to know in real life, either.
I'd let James off easy if he hadn't written the screenplay as well, and clearly had the star power to make director Steve Carr set down the camera and let James run scene after scene into the ground. The blame goes to everyone who thought Paul Blart was a character who deserved a feature, and who didn't even try to make Paul Blart: Mall Cop into something more than a collection of easy jokes and some uncomfortable moral lessons about standing up for yourself. Or maybe I should just blame myself, for daring to expect anything better from the hell of January releases.