Back Off, Jerk: In Defense of ‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop’

There’s a fine line between camp and class, between low-brow and high-brow. Have you ever been that person who’s constantly defending a movie or TV show or album that everybody else seems to despise? With “Back Off, Jerk,” Hidden Track writers tell the rest of the universe to wake up and stop hatin’.

This week, Charles J. Moss defends Kevin James’ family friendly film comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop, reviews be damned.

Paul Blart Mall Cop Cover

I’ve had this weird obsession with the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop for some time now.

The movie mysteriously appeared on my Netflix queue about a year ago. I had no idea how it gotten there, and neither had my wife. We accused each other of adding it, each making fun of the other for not admitting to the act. The conflict lasted for months, neither one of us admitting defeat.

Later on, as I was flipping channels one day, I stumbled upon the movie and started watching it out of boredom. I was enthralled, much to the amusement of my wife. Had I, inadvertently, added it to our Netflix queue? Could I have subconsciously added it, realizing that something appealed to me about this movie?

I did. And now I take responsibility for it.

When it hit theaters back in 2009, Paul Blart: Mall Cop was the first movie ever released in the month of January to gross more than $100 million at the box office. Now, it’s important to put this kind of achievement in perspective — despite its record-breaking numbers, this Kevin James-starring movie about an obsessive, hypoglycemic mall cop isn’t exactly a great moment in cinema. But it’s surprisingly funny, especially for a PG-rated film, which isn’t always the case with Adam Sandler’s production company, Happy Madison.

Don’t get me wrong. In many ways, this movie is cheesy and predictable. And it scored 33 percent on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer, which, to look on the positive side, is higher than Grown Ups, Kevin James’ 2010 release with Adam Sandler, which scored an abominable 10 percent. But, for me, James’ performance helps carries Paul Blart. As a fan of his TV show The King of Queens, I know James is funny. And in this film, he gets to show off his comedic talents even more, not just through his line delivery but also with physical comedy. Like his predecessors Chris Farley and John Belushi, James is fat — but he’s also in shape. As an amateur fighter, he was very much qualified to do his own stunts. And that he did. Physical comedy doesn’t always do it for me — but in this instance, it did. Just watch this and this.

And James is an expert at making fun of himself, which comes out both in his performance and in the script he co-wrote with Nick Bakay. I’m assuming here, but I’m sure James has had insecurities due to his largeness, and that comes out in the movie’s more emotional parts. Again, it’s a bit cheesy but also relatable.

But it’s not just James that provides the humor in this movie. His real-life brother, comedian Gary Valentine, offers some laughs as the guy we’ve all seen while drinking at a Karaoke bar, singing as seriously as he can to a cheesy rock song, as if he’s the lead singer in the imaginary rock band he’s always dreamed of leading.

The movie’s central plot — James’ underdog mall cop becoming a hero by single-handedly taking care of the bad guys and rescuing the hostages — has been done and done again. But as a pop culture nerd, it’s funny to pick up on the film’s nods to both Die Hard and Home Alone in the action sequences.

And I don’t care what you say. I don’t think it will ever get old to see a fat man ride on a Segway…ever; or anyone, for that matter. So forget everything you think you know about Paul Blart: Mall Cop and take another look.

And if you don’t want to take my word on for it, here’s more proof that I’m not crazy:

  • It won the ASCAP award in Top Box Office Films.
  • It was nominated for Best Comedy in the 2009 Teen Choice Awards (On second thought, maybe this is more of a negative rather than a positive.)

And if those points don’t convince you, then read what the late Roger Ebert had to say about it in his positive review:

“Paul Blart emerges as a hero, and something else: Kevin James illustrates how lighting and camera angles can affect our perception of an actor. In the early scenes, he’s a fat schlub, but after he goes into action, the camera lowers subtly, the lighting changes, and suddenly he’s a good-looking action hero, ready for business. He demonstrates what fat men have been secretly believed for a long time. Should Daniel Craig someday retire, I am supporting Kevin James for the next James Bond.”

Ebert gave it four out of five stars. Boom!

And if that wasn’t convincing enough, the film is also educational:

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