Back in 2009, Kevin James had his moment in the spotlight with “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” a somehow-successful retread of “Die Hard” set in a mall with Kevin James pulling Bruce Willis duty. He took down robbers, people who thought that mall security was a lame profession, bullies, and SWAT team members; he proved his worth to woman he had loved from afar; he nobly turned down the chance to join the police force to continue serving consumers everywhere on top his Segway. Who needed another chapter of this story? And especially one as bad as “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2”? For shame.
The film, again starring and co-written by James and again produced by constant costar Adam Sandler, loses any of the extremely slight charm held by the original; this is billed as family-friendly entertainment, but only if you squint. Why should we encourage our children to laugh at a grown man hitting an elderly woman? Or explaining away his friend’s drunk advances at an uninterested woman? Or being gluttonous, overprotective, rude, and self-involved? There are plenty of antiheroes in the world, but Paul Blart isn’t one; he’s just a combination of insufferable qualities pretending to be a human being. And yet “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” wants us to celebrate that, instead of criticizing it—as we rightfully should.
“Mall Cop 2” is set six years after the original in which Blart (James, of “Grown Ups 2”) saved the citizens of West Orange Pavilion Mall, married the woman of his dreams, and recommmitted himself to his job; this time around, his wife has left him, his mother has died (run over by a milk truck, which seems pretty morbid for a PG film), and he’s in the dark about his daughter, Maya (Raini Rodriguez, of “Prom”), being accepted to UCLA for college because she hasn’t told him yet. He’s a needy, lonely man whose neuroses has only grown over time, and so when he receives an invitation to a security conference in Las Vegas with all expenses paid, he’s convinced that he’s the secret keynote speaker. So he accepts and drags Maya along, pretending that it’s a vacation but really hoping to get his ego stroked.
While there, however, things only get worse: He thinks Maya is sneaking around with a handsome hotel employee, his Segway moves around the casino keep getting him hit by cars, and he doesn’t understand why a woman at the hotel bar wouldn’t accept the drunken overtures of a classless friend. (In one of the film’s lower, more sexist scenes.) But then he realizes that a high-roller, the smooth, suave Vincent (Neal McDonough, of “RED 2”), is planning to rob the casino and hotel, and it sparks him into action—assembling tools like a glue gun, a Taser, and the like, he decides to take down the baddies. If he did it in his mall, why couldn’t he do it in a casino?
So a barely there plot, a series of jokes attacking and undermining women, running gags with animal violence (Blart is attacked by a peacock and kicked by a horse in two painfully-CGI-rendered scenes), and—like how Melissa McCarthy was treated in the awful “Tammy,” which mocked her size and looks before doing an unbelievable 180-degree-turn at the end of the film toward acceptance—a bizarre combination of laughing at James’s size, eating habits, and clumsiness and ultimately celebrating him for being himself. A film can’t have it both ways, but the script by James and Nick Bakay (of “Zookeeper”) layers fat joke upon physical comedy gag upon fat joke upon physical comedy gag to try to make the balance work. It never does.
What’s the point of a sequel like this? What’s the appeal? By the end of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,” it’s clear that James and Co. want to make the case that Blart is the Everyman, protecting his family and strangers because it’s the right thing to do, no matter his physical (or, really, mental) limitations, but maybe then the film also shouldn’t make him insanely possessive, undeniably buffoon-like, and practically delusional. If there’s a “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 3,” making Blart even remotely human would be a good first step—and a necessary one.