Underestimate Paul Blart at your own peril. Or at least risk the embarrassment of not knowing that Kevin James makes major bank by turning his sad-sack security officer into an unlikely action hero and father figure, twice over now with the release today of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.
That lack of appreciation by hip, younger comedy people is played to great effect in the pilot of FX’s The Comedians, as Josh Gad gives Billy Crystal grief for being relegated to a happy grandpa role in movies. To which Crystal retorts: That happy grandpa earned more than $100 million globally at the box office.
“I loved the little Parental Guidance shout-out!” said Andy Fickman, who directed Crystal in that picture and directed James in his Vegas-sized Paul Blart sequel, which quickly smashes the happy ending from his 2009 film to bring him back down to size and then some into one sincerely sad-sack dad.
Served with divorce papers, slapped in the face by a kid and enduring his mother slammed dead by a truck, it all happens so fast that even mentioning it is no spoiler. And yet, as written once more by James with Nick Bakay and produced by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison, Blart takes his teenage daughter to the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas for a security officer convention and quickly pretends he’s a player by negging the resort’s concierge, Divina (Daniella Alonso), so successfully that she defies conventional wisdom by falling for this “strangely misshapen superhero.” Then again, you could say that Blart and his “wack pack” of security officers going all Die Hard on a villain (Neal McDonough) who’s trying to steal the Wynn’s art collection isn’t exactly realistic.
Or that the resort’s valet would fall for Blart’s daughter. But David Henrie (Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place) and Raina Rodriguez (Disney’s Austin & Ally — and sister of Modern Family‘s Rico Rodriguez) are kid stars in an otherwise family-friendly film meant to appeal to their less discerning audience.
And no amount of snark from this critic or any other is going to change that.
As Blart himself says: “Hipster talk, I don’t like it.”
Or as Fickman told The Comic’s Comic today, the opening-day reviews from critics or box-office figures don’t mean nearly as much to him as does the anecdotal word-of-mouth from families who see his PG-rated movie. “I’m always interested in the audience…yeah, what’s that buzz?” Fickman said. “I don’t really read reviews. I respect what they’re there for and who they’re there for…(but) my audience is family. So I do look at emails from people that took their 8-year-old and their grandparents and they all had a good time. That’s the reviews I’m looking for.”
Here’s the trailer for Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
Some of the biggest, truest laughs in the film come out of slapstick, courtesy of James putting his body into the punchline.
“I was really taken back to Peter Sellers and the Pink Panther movies,” Fickman said of Paul Blart’s comedic inspiration. “Those were movies that I grew up with and truly loved. He was an underdog, on paper and in action. He was a bumbler, he was inept, he’d say the worst things to beautiful women and still come out the winner.
“And Kevin as a person is just inherently likable.”
The narrative thread of the trade association, combined with the Vegas casino/resort backdrop, also allows Blart not only to find his inner Bond — what with all of the prototype gadgets shown off on the convention floor — but also find a colorful collection of sidekicks in fellow mall cops and security officers played by Gary Valentine (Kevin’s brother), Loni Love, Shelly Desai, Vic DiBitetto and Nicholas Turturro. Near the film’s climax, the mall cops literally face off with the villain and his henchmen in a highly choreographed, if not also highly unlikely fight scene.
“We talked from the very beginning of wanting a fight scene that would be memorable,” Fickman said.
His stunt coordinator worked with all of the actors to reduce the amount of shots they’d need doubles to replace them. Since the specifics weren’t in the screenplay in terms of “who flips who and who fights who,” the action became more about what was possible with the actors. “The one thing everybody knew was it should like like the bad guys are going to win against the wack pack, but then somehow the wack pack wins,” Fickman said.
In other words, underestimate Paul Blart at your own peril.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is rated PG and out now in cinemas nationwide.