Mall Cop and Other Disreputable Pleasures

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Michael Roberts

Kerr Smith, left, and Megan Boone star in My Bloody Valentine

(3 of 3)

That yanks Notorious out of the urban-grit category and into the genre of the doomed star cut down by fame. Such a movie needs a star turn, and it gets one from Woolard, who has the stolidity and solidity, and nearly the size, of the Bamiyan Buddhas. He's one of those music performers turned actors who takes instantly to being at the center of a movie; he's both potent and at ease. Like Wallace, Woolard, whose rap handle is Gravy, has been the victim of gunfire. And last weekend, at a Greensboro, N.C., theater where he attended a Notorious premiere, a member of the audience was shot, taken to a nearby hospital, treated and released.

But the message of Notorious is as old-fashioned as antique Hollywood weepies like Stella Dallas and Mrs. Miniver: Mother knows best.

Paul Blart, Mall Cop

Two fat men dominated the weekend box office: Biggie and Kevin James. (Thin Clint was the middle of the sandwich.) The title of the James film both spelled out its modest intentions and lacked the inspired oxymoronia of Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector (which lacked any other redeeming feature). Most of the big critics skipped the ordeal of reviewing Mall Cop and handed it off to second-stringers, who pounded the film pretty savagely. So of course I had to find it ... almost semi-recommendable. Anyway, an easy sit.

As Biggie was notorious, James is nice. An oversize comic in the mold of Fatty Arbuckle, Jackie Leonard, Buddy Hackett, Rodney Dangerfield and Jackie Gleason, James is different in not using his weight as an excuse for high-pressure comedy — a giant tea kettle ready to blow its top. The star of TV's The King of Queens, he's a Ralph Kramden without anger issues. In Paul Blart, as in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (where he starred with Adam Sandler, this film's executive producer), James gets laughs by underreacting to the humiliations the world heaps on a heavy man.

Paul Blart, who works the security detail at a West Orange, N.J., mall, doesn't even seem to be internalizing the expected rage. A single dad whose hypoglycemia has disqualified him from the police force, he endures the insults of a pen salesman (Stephen Rannazzisi) and the polite indifference of Amy (Jayma Mays), the cute gal at the hair-extensions booth, without troubling to seethe. He motors around on his Segway — riding it is the one thing at which he's an ace — smiling at Amy, shrugging off the rest of the world. Either Paul is conditioned by decades of being ignored or scorned, or he's attained a degree of secular satori. Or he's an idiot.

No, Paul is at least inchoately aware that he has inner resources. Surely he is ordained, by the dictates of movie comedy, to win the girl, take revenge on his detractor, thwart a major crime and become a hero. When Veck, a new security guard (Keir O'Donnell), turns out to be the head of a gang that takes Amy and his daughter (Raini Rodriguez) hostage during a mall robbery, Paul proves his mettle, outwitting Veck and overcoming the gang lord's parkouring minions.

All predictable enough. It's the touches that James, who wrote the script with King of Queens veteran Nick Bakay, brings to the character that make the movie O.K. James knows how to use his girth to comic effect. If horror is about geometry, comedy is about physics: the pretzeling and punishment a body can take. James' pratfalls don't give the impression of hurting because he has such a capacious cushion to fall on. His grace in motion isn't exceptional, but he could medal in Segway. There's a perfect meeting of actor and character in one little scene when Paul discovers Amy and the other hostages in a small bank: instead of busting in like an action hero, he just naturally traverses the winding maze of a roped waiting area.

Thus did a film critic survive his day in civvies, catching three ordinary, not awful movies. At a film festival, I might see five or seven films from the world's banquet of arty would-be masterpieces. None of this weekend's have aspirations other than to divert audiences and make a few bucks, both of which goals they have already achieved. That's the saving grace of Hollywood: it can attain a fairly high level of mediocrity — junk food that tastes pretty good.

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