Tuesday, May 12, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

Wow, I thought May was supposed to be the start of Summer Blockbuster Season? Not around these parts! Ultron and the Avengers apparently scared the studios out of releasing anything new, as it was slim pickins at the cineplex this past weekend.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 was written by Kevin James and Nick Bakay, and was directed by Andy Fickman.

James stars as the title character of course, and he and Bakay co-wrote the original film, Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Bakay was also a writer on Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, as well as the voice of Salem the cat on the series. Fickman previously directed Who's Your Daddy, She's The Man, The Game Plan, Race To Witch Mountain, You Again and Parental Guidance. Well, at least his work's consistent.

The original film was a surprise hit back in 2009, grossing $146 million against its miniscule $28 million budget. Those figures made a sequel inevitable, but why it took six long years is a mystery. One would think the producers would've wanted to strike while the iron was hot, not after it's cooled down and stuffed back in the closet.

It's a safe and inoffensive little film that's suitable for the entire family, which is a rarity these days. If you like your comedy bland and largely laugh-free, then this is the movie for you. It does manage to generate a couple of polite chuckles, but they're few and far between. Your mileage may vary of course, depending on your tolerance for the humor of Kevin James.

If you're a Paul Blart fan you'll love this sequel, since it's pretty much a rehash of everything that happened in the first film. Heck, many of the jokes and a lot of the physical comedy from the original get an encore here. I guess the studio thinks if you liked the jokes once, you'll love 'em even more the second time around.

In many film franchises, the sequels are forced to rewrite the events of the original in order to work. It happened in the Austin Powers series, for example. Powers marries his girlfriend Vanessa at the end of the first film, which seemingly put an end to his "Man Of Mystery" ways. Then in The Spy Who Shagged Me she's immediately revealed to be a Fembot, paving the way for Powers to be single again so he can continue swinging and snogging through the rest of the films.

This same thing happened in The Matrix series. At the end of the original, Neo learns how to control the Matrix code and and uses that knowledge to basically become Superman. That would have been fine for a one-shot, but not so much for a series, as an all-powerful, indestructible superhero would have made quick work of Agent Smith. Therefore Neo was quickly and inexplicably de-powered in The Matrix Reloaded.

Paul Blart 2 continues this trend. At the end of the first film, Blart goes from bumbling oaf to competent professional, as he saves the mall from a band of criminals. He even marries the girl in the end. Apparently that road led to a dead end, story wise. The writers torpedo all of Blart's accomplishments and reset him to his default position, making him incompetent and single again in the sequel.


The Plot:
After just six days of marriage, Paul Blart's wife Amy realizes she made a huge mistake and divorces him. Shortly afterward his mother Margaret is killed by a milk truck (Com-O-Dee!). Distraught and depressed, Blart throws himself into his job as a security guard at the West Orange Pavilion Mall.

Six years later, things finally seem to pick up for Blart when he's invited to a security officer's convention in Las Vegas. The same day, his teenaged daughter Maya is accepted to UCLA, but decides not to tell her father for fear the news will spoil his happiness. Because parents just hate it when their kids receive good news, dontcha know.

The two head to Vegas and stay at the fabulous and luxurious Wynn Hotel, conveniently located on beautiful Las Vegas Boulevard. Sound like a commercial? That's because it is— this entire film is pretty much one giant product placement for billionaire Steve Wynn and his hotel/casino. Maya is immediately attracted to a valet named Lane, while Blart believes the hotel manager has fallen hopelessly in love with him. And guess what? Because Blart rebuffs her, she really does fall for him! Just like real life.

Meanwhile, a criminal mastermind named Vincent (no last names, please) and his thugs plot to steal the valuable art from the Wynn hotel. Maya inadvertently stumbles into Vincent's suite and sees his operation. Vincent holds her and Lane hostage until the heist is over. 

Blart gives a rousing speech at the security convention banquet, to thunderous applause. Maya secretly calls Blart on her cell phone instead of calling the police like an actual human would do. Blart gets her message and springs into action.

He arms himself with the latest in non-lethal weaponry from the security convention and goes after Vincent and his goons. He somehow manages to take out a few of Vincent's men, and grabs a valuable Van Gogh painting they were stealing. He contacts Vincent and offers to trade the painting for Maya. The tradeoff goes badly, and Vincent takes Maya and the painting to a helipad to make his getaway.

Blart uses a zipline to get to the helipad on the next building, but is cornered by Vincent. Just as he's about to shoot Blart, Maya smears Vincent's face with oatmeal shampoo, to which, as we were told earlier, he's deathly allergic. His face instantly swells and erupts in large boils as he's blinded. I don't think allergic reactions work that fast, but the movie's almost over, so let's just roll with it. Blart headbutts him, knocking him out.

The villains are then arrested, the artwork is all returned, and Steve Wynn and his wife make a cameo appearance, showing off their tans and their plastic surgery as they congratulate Blart. 

Blart then accompanies Maya to UCLA, where he meets a gung-ho policewoman who gives him her phone number, setting up the third movie which will no doubt be released sometime in 2021.

• I honestly don't have much to say about this film, so this'll be short.

• I should have known I was in for a bad time when I saw "Produced by Happy Madison Productions" in the opening credits. Are there five more horrifying words in film these days?

• Credit where credit's due: Kevin James gives the film his all, literally throwing himself into the role as he runs, jumps and slides across the floor in a desperate attempt to generate laughs. Unfortunately much of this schtick is exactly the same as it was in the first film.

• I was a little confused by the sequel's timeline. Blart and his girlfriend are married at the end of the first film, but at the beginning of this one she serves him with divorce papers after just six days. But then there's numerous dialog and evidence indicating that this film happens six years later.

I think there's a six year time jump that happens immediately after the divorce and the death of Blart's mom, and then the rest of the film happens in the present day. I think that's how it works, but it's not very clear.

Somehow I feel like I'm putting way more thought into this than the filmmakers did.

• Kevin James seems to have put on an alarming amount of weight recently. Compare him in 2012's Here Comes The Boom with how he looks in this film. Hopefully he didn't gain two hundred pounds just for this movie! 

Please believe me, I'm not fat-shaming here, I'm legitimately concerned for his health.

• Paul Blart is an ineffectual goofball, but his incompetence seems to fluctuate depending on the needs of the script. At a security products expo, he tests out a non-lethal "beanbag" gun, and misses a dozen shots from just a few feet away. Later when he's taking on the art thieves, he hits every one of them squarely in the chest while speeding by on a souped-up Segway.

He also seems to have trouble articulating his thoughts most of the time, grunting or letting his sentences trail off into incoherent mumbling. That is until he appears at the security guard banquet, and gives a rousing and very moving speech.

So which is he? Bumbling buffoon or competent professional?

• Blart meets his daughter Maya for dinner, and the film grinds to a halt as he displays his electric fork. He explains in elaborate detail how it forces him to eat more slowly, which results in weight loss. He demonstrates it for what seems like a full minute of screen time.

After all that elaborate setup, I was expecting some sort of "shock to the mouth" joke, but it never came. So what the hell was the point of all that?

Later in the film Blart wires his fork to an electrical cable (somehow avoiding electrocution) and uses a bow to shoot it like an arrow into the chest of a criminal. So I guess that was the point of the elaborate fork setup? 

• Vincent's art theft heist seems a bit sketchy. His suite is filled with tons of elaborate and expensive high-tech equipment, which allows him to override hotel security and steal the art.

One would think Vincent would have to be a millionaire to afford all this equipment, as well as all the highly trained henchmen to run it. So why's he need to steal art? I guess being a millionaire's not enough, and he wants to be a billionaire?

• There's really no reason for the movie to be set in Vegas. There's one brief gambling scene that's seemingly thrown in to justify the setting, but other than that it could have taken place pretty much anywhere. Obviously it was set there just to showcase the fabulous Winn Las Vegas Resort, which no doubt ponied up a considerable amount of the film's budget.

Billionaire Steve Wynn, the owner of the resort, even makes a cameo appearance with his wife (as if anyone would recognize them). I'm sure the walk-on part was probably a requirement after he ponied up the dough. "Here's your money Kevin. Now what part will my wife and I be playing in the film?"

Steve Wynn is an avid art collector, and the Wynn resort really is filled with actual pieces from his collection, just like in the film.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is a very mildly amusing sequel that plays it safe, is little more than a rehash of the first film and has no earthly reason to exist. I give it a C.

Update: Ordinarily I make it a policy to never go back and revise my movie reviews. Once I give a film a grade, I let it stand. 

Well, rules were made to be broken. I don't know what the hell I was thinking when I originally gave Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 a C for god's sake, but I can't in good conscience let that score stand. This is a terrible, terrible movie, and at the very least it deserves a D.

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