Nobody was expecting much from Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, but did it have to be this unimaginative and lifeless? The original wasn’t exactly Sherlock, Jr. to begin with, but you might have thought that, given its success, Kevin James and Co. could try to take the second one into stranger, edgier, more interesting territory … Oh, who am I kidding? As Homer Simpson once said, “It’s okay, money. Your money’s money is aaall that’s money.” The first Paul Blart did the trick and made bank. The second one is the same trick, with a different setting and a Wynn Casinos promotional tie-in.
When we catch up with Paul Blart and his beloved family, it turns out the happy ending of the first film was an illusion. His beautiful new wife has left him after six days. “She had ‘regrets,’” we’re told, but “her doctor called it ‘uncontrollable vomiting.’” This is the kind of half-assed gross-out gag these movies traffic in — suggested, retrospective grossness, without any actual grossness. (To be fair, I don’t know which option is worse; it’s not like I wanted to see vomiting.) Also, Blart’s beloved mother has been flattened by a milk truck. (That gag we do see.) So he cowers at home crying like a baby, with only his daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez, whose life-affirming presence lifted the first film as well) to give him support.
Things start to look up, though, when our mopey hero gets an invite to attend a Security Officers Association trade show in Las Vegas. (Maya, meanwhile, gets accepted into UCLA but doesn’t have the heart to tell her needy, overprotective Pa.) Daddy and daughter pack up their things and head to Sin City. But since the film is doing double-duty as a promo piece for Vegas, don’t expect anything truly sinful or dark. The big, unstated joke in this movie is that the city itself is now basically just a larger, high-end shopping mall. And so, Paul and Maya run into shenanigans that feel eerily familiar to what happened before. In the first film, a group of hooligans out for a Black Friday heist at the local mall took Maya and Blart’s then-object-of-affection hostage; this time, it’s a group of tech-savvy art thieves who take Maya and a boy she’s interested in hostage. Before, Blart was looked down upon by the New Jersey State Police, who didn’t think of him as a real security pro; this time, it’s a sneering Vegas security team led by Eduardo Verástegui. Time is a flat circle, and so is this fucking movie.
A shame, because Kevin James is a guy with some talent — an inherent sincerity crossed with unlikely physical grace (you can read a whole article I wrote about this phenomenon, here). On the surface, the idea of him as a Segway-riding, overcommitted security guard is a good one. But the movies themselves aren’t willing to commit — almost as if they’re afraid to go in for the comic kill. When Blart arrives in Vegas, he’s briefly convinced that he’ll be asked to give the much-coveted keynote speech at his security convention. It’s an ideal setup for some humiliation comedy, but the film pulls its punches; it lets Blart dig a very small hole for himself, then quickly abandon the gag before anybody is allowed to cringe, as if to carry it through might be too cruel. Similarly, there are some mild bits involving others poking fun at Blart for his overconfidence and self-importance, but nothing ever cuts through; they’re all so gentle that you wonder if the film is afraid of hurting the character. (“Guys, he can take it!” I wanted to yell back at the screen. “He’s fictional, you know!”)
And yet, the film isn’t beneath a gross-out scene of Kevin James getting suggestively spattered in the face with a leaking ice-cream cone, during one of Blart’s occasional attempts to combat his hypoglycemia. (Never mind that the movie appears to have conflated hypoglycemia with narcolepsy.) At least that gag, however unfunny, is something — gross, dumb, offensive. And it’s a good example of the weirdly frustrating position these movies put you in. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 seemingly does the impossible: It makes you wish it were dumber, grosser, and more offensive — instead of the nothing movie that it is.