A recent public service announcement reminds residents of drought-plagued California not to waste precious resources by leaving the water running while they’re brushing their teeth. But who’s going to speak out against the flagrant and wanton misuse of talented comedians in “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2?”
I’ve given up hope on Kevin James, who long ago made a devil’s bargain with the soul-crushing destroyers of cinema at Adam Sandler‘s Happy Madison shingle, but why did he have to drag down Ana Gasteyer and Loni Love, two exceptionally funny women wasted here in nothing roles and shaming wigs? And how could Nick Bakay, whose extensive résumé includes Joel Hodgson’s innovative and hilarious “The TV Wheel,” share a screenplay credit (with James, of course) on a movie whose chuckles (six, I counted) are outnumbered by helicopter shots of the Wynn resort in Las Vegas?
(Incidentally, having sat through “The Hangover,” “Last Vegas,” “21,” “Think Like a Man Too” and more Vegas movies than I care to count, I hereby challenge filmmakers to create an establishing shot of the city’s skyline that doesn’t look like it was distributed to every production by the Convention & Visitors Authority.)
Paul Blart — imagine Inspector Clouseau, only husky, not French, and not funny — tells us in the opening narration that the triumphs of the previous movie were short-lived; his wife left him after six days of marriage, and his beloved mother was soon thereafter hit by a milk truck. (Actresses Jayma Mays and Shirley Knight had the good sense to flee this movie in the first five minutes, a strategy audience members would be wise to emulate.)
His spirits are lifted by an invitation to Las Vegas for a convention of security officers, and he sets out to Sin City with daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez, “Austin & Ally”) in tow. After all the personal losses her dad has suffered, she’s hesitant to tell him that she just got into UCLA, all the way across the country from their home in New Jersey.
Unbeknownst to the blustery, bumbling Blart, the Wynn hotel where the convention is happening is also hosting Vincent (Neal McDonough, sleepwalking through yet another bad-guy role), who is planning to steal the casino’s art treasures, including van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.”
These two storylines, plus some interplay with Blart’s fellow rent-a-cops, all of whom are condescendingly portrayed for maximum freakishness, somehow fill up 94 minutes at the hand of director Andy Fickman, who previously anointed the world with “Parental Guidance” and “You Again.”
The closest “Paul Blart 2” gets to actual comedy is in its use of James (and some strategic stunt doubles) somersaulting and flipping around despite his apparent ungainliness, but even that joke gets trotted out so often that it loses whatever impact it might have had. I watched the film with a paying, opening-night audience (Sony was happy to slap its name on almost every cell phone and watch featured in the movie, but they didn’t want to share this film with critics in advance), and the place was mostly silent as a tomb, save for the featured-in-the-trailer gag in which Blart runs smack into a plate glass window.
The humor level in the film is so moribund that it doesn’t even inspire groans or eye-rolling; instead, it figuratively puts its hands on your shoulders and pushes you deeper into your theater seat until you’ve been completely subdued by all the nothingness it has to offer. Cinematically speaking, it’s like having a riot squad beanbag shot directly at your solar plexus.