Ah, the privileges of being Adam Sandler's pal. Perks include supporting roles and screenwriting credits in his films, access to his Scrooge McDuck-style money vault and famous abundance of silly voices, and, for a lucky few, a Sandler-produced vehicle courtesy of his Happy Madison production company. Kevin James has much more going for him than most Sandler cronies: a stand-up career, a long-running sitcom (King Of Queens), and a co-lead in Sandler's I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry for starters. But with Paul Blart: Mall Cop, James has been given the same kind of ramshackle, half-assed vehicle Happy Madison previously lavished on the likes of Allen Covert (who co-stars here) and David Spade.
James, who also co-wrote the script (no doubt with an uncredited polish by Robert Towne), stars as a mustachioed single father and dedicated shopping center security guard covered with a coating of sadness and desperation so thick and oppressive its sheen can probably be detected from other galaxies. When the mall is taken over by a gang of insanely acrobatic criminals that seems to have emerged from an '80s skateboarding movie, James makes a startling transformation from sad sack to supercop. Plausibility is Mall Cop's first and most brutally dispatched casualty.
Where most Happy Madison productions are crude gag fests with a perfunctory emotional streak, Mall Cop is a shamelessly sentimental comedy with a few crude gags thrown in arbitrarily. With his gelatinous physique and hangdog persona, James suggests Ernest Borgnine's Marty more readily than Sandler's rage-prone man-children. Mall Cop is defined more by pathos than raunch, though in its second half, the film turns into a stale riff on Die Hard. James has a sweet, appealing presence, but the dreary, joke-light script and generic direction do him no favors. He and his collaborators have given the title character a funny name, a funny mustache, a funny job, and a funny Segway to scoot around on. They merely neglected to give him anything funny to say or do.