We all know what a sad state journalism is in these days, but some reporters still perform actual fact-checking. On Friday afternoon at the AMC Theatres Coral Ridge 10, I "fact-checked" Paul Blart: Mall Cop -- released nationwide this weekend -- by inviting a real mall security officer from Fort Lauderdale named Steve to watch it with me.
If it's a traditional review you're looking for, go here. For the gut-wrenching truth from a grizzled veteran, jump.
Before we get to the critique, a bit of back story. It's not as easy as you might think to convince a mall cop you don't know to waste a Friday afternoon for a little social experiment you've concocted when you were watching football and saw a commercial for what you thought might be a funny movie. (There was alcohol.) Plus I figured none of my friends would want to see this movie with me anyway.
I did manage to convince Phyllis, who works at a local malleria, that it could be grand fun. But as luck would have it, when I called her Friday morning with movie times, she said she couldn't go (She gave me an excuse, but by then I was crying so hard I couldn't hear it). She did suggest a co-worker named Steve, who agreed to go to the movies with me in exchange for $15 and a bag of popcorn (times are tough).
Steve is a long way from Paul Blart. Blart wears a silly uniform and rides a Segway. Steve wears jeans and a cap and walks around his mall with what looks like an iPod (it's actually a radio he uses to stay in touch with the security room).
Here's something I didn't know: Broward public school students had the day off Friday. So for our PG-rated matinee, we got a room full of kids. Some of the following statements may be true: I like children. I do not think they smell like poop. I enjoy watching a movie surrounded by them as they talk and yell and cry and smell like poop.
Steve was probably inconspicuously examining the audience for what might be stolen stuff, but to the untrained he looked like a guy eating a lot of popcorn. Dude's good.
The movie itself was about as funny as the trailer, which is to say most of the funniest parts of the film can be seen in the trailer. Kevin James plays a socially awkward, sweaty, often dismissed single father (the undocumented mother only married him for citizenship, then left him with their daughter) whose mother still makes him lunch. Every year he tries out for the New Jersey state police, but his ambitions are thwarted by a nasty case of hypoglycemia. He also has a crush on Amy, the pretty girl who works at the hair-extension kiosk.
Even by the standards of a guy who works in a mall, this movie was a bombardment of product placement. At every turn, in every shot, before and after every bit of dialogue, we got a shitload of national chain stores--enough to make it clear that this film was paid-for whether anybody in America even buys a ticket.
I was secretly hoping the movie would be a dry, hopelessly realistic drama about a broken man trying to come to grips with the waste his life has become. It was kind of like that, but with a lot of slapstick and fat jokes. Did I mention he sweats a lot too?
Pretty early on Steve looked pissed. It was probably because the movie was mocking his profession in an incredible way (while the terrorists are taking over the mall, Blart is playing Guitar Hero). Though it might have been because I kept turning and staring at him in a creepy way trying to guage his reaction.
The action is limited, the jokes are less than subtle, and the plot is kind of cute, in a shallow sort of way. The terrorists - who have the amazing ability to jump (I'm not kidding) and sometimes carry guns - aren't particularly bright as they battle Blart, who uses only the weapons found in the mall he loves so much--weapons that can be found in a number of national chain stores you can find at your local mall.
Not to ruin the end for you, but eventually everybody in the movie dies in a gruesome sequence of events and all the evil corporations learn the error of their ways and apologize for trying to infiltrate the subconscious of pre-teens who couldn't resist the fat guy in the mustache running into glass doors at the card store (which shall go unnamed here).
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And not to ruin this blog post for you, but that's not really how it ended.
If you were to sum up Steve's reaction in one movie-poster-blurb of a word, it would be "offended."
"It pretty much makes a huge mockery of what we do, which is serious loss-prevention," he said. "It was as made-up as Bedtime Stories," a Disney movie staring Adam Sandler, who produced Mall Cop. He said he had seen that too, and hated it as well. The last movie like this he liked, he said, was I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.
Truth be told, I didn't hate the movie. Kevin James works with awkward the way lesser artists work with acrylics or watercolors. And I could probably watch that all day (if the room didn't smell like poop).