Imagine being asked to feel sorry for the Three Stooges. Except there's only one of them, and he's a combination of Larry and Curly (incorporating Moe would bring too much gravitas and intelligence to the character). Stir for 90 minutes, and leave for undemanding moviegoers to serve themselves. And then do it all over again, although the second time around, do it with even less sense of anyone involved giving a damn or putting in any actual effort. The first such attempt made an ungodly amount of money, so why bother?
Presenting Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. It sounds like a Saturday Night Live sketch that overstayed its welcome 90 seconds in. But it's a real movie that real people have unashamedly put their names on, because a sweet paycheck trumps dignity.
Paul Blart (Kevin James) is still riding high, six years later, on the fame – which exists only in his head – of being the guy who thwarted a Die Hard-type plot at the New Jersey mall where he's employed as a security guard. (That was the first movie. Now you don't need to see it.) When he is invited to a security-guard convention in Las Vegas, he genuinely believes that he, as the savior of West Orange Pavilion Mall, might be the "surprise" keynote speaker ... because keynote speeches are typically sprung as a spur-of-the-moment honor. Yes, Paul Blart is an idiot. He's also gluttonous, clumsy, overbearing, self-deluded and obnoxious. He's a veritable personification of the seven dullest sins, which the movie celebrates, inviting us to laugh at Blart as he stuffs his face, trips over things and generally behaves like a buffoon. Blart is the protagonist as punching bag.
No, wait, he's the protagonist as misunderstood everyman: Lonely. Hard-working. Just trying to do his best in an unfriendly world. And he earns – nay, deserves – the love and respect that comes his way. Like from his daughter, Maya (Raini Rodriguez), willing to sacrifice everything for him and forgo acceptance at UCLA because she cannot bear to leave her childlike father alone. Or from the hotel manager (Daniella Alonso) and head of security (Eduardo Verástegui), whose rightful disdain for Blart as he blunders onto their turf and acts like an entitled idiot will inevitably morph into literal adoration. If director Andy Fickman initially cannot decide if he wants us to laugh at Blart or cheer him on, he eventually comes down on the side of Blart Is Awesome!
I've said it before, and it's worth saying again now: There is absolutely nothing that men can do or be – or neglect to do or be – no failing they can have, no emptiness they can embody, that Hollywood will not embrace as heroic.
Don't think that Our Hero Blart won't be scuttling another crime plot stolen from a far superior film! It's Vegas, baby, so this time it's a faux Ocean's 11 heist – led by Neal McDonough – that Blart will accidentally stumble into and derail through almost no genuine effort of his own. Fickman lays it out for us with all the gusto of a toilet paper commercial, not a would-be action comedy, which is sort of fitting for a movie in which competence equals villainy and incompetence, Paul Blart-style, is a virtue. If Paul Blart were a filmmaker, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is the sort of movie he would make. And Paul Blart would think that was a compliment.