Kevin James’ ‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2’ Puts Critics in Check After Crummy Reviews

The comedy sequel overcomes its “zero” rating on Rotten Tomatoes for a $24 million box-office opening

It could be possible that “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” really is a “massive waste of time and money” and “worse than the worst movie you’ve ever seen,” as critic Christy Lemire of said in her review.

Despite that slam and similar barbs from Lemire’s colleagues, the family film is on course to be a moneymaker for Sony Pictures. It debuted at No. 2 with $24 million behind “Furious 7” this weekend — about $7 million higher than analysts and the studio had projected.

All 38 reviews posted at aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes came down on the “rotten” side for the comedy sequel, in which Kevin James reprises his role as a good-natured but dopey security guard who heads to Las Vegas on vacation. The zero rating is a swamp only a few movies – like the 1999 Dennis RodmanDane Cook action stinker “Simon Sez” and the 2002 Antonio BanderasLucy Liu clunker “Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever” — have sunk to.

“I don’t think anyone was expecting the critics and audiences to be in lock step on “Blart,” said Rentrak senior analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “You could count the PG-rated family films this year on one hand, and this lack of content set up a great situation for ‘Blart’ to draw crowds looking for something family-friendly and goofy at the multiplex.”

Audiences as well as critics shape word of mouth, and moviegoers who saw “Blart 2,”  gave it a decent “B-” CinemaScore. The grades tend to have a generous curve so that’s not great, but it’s better than the reviews. And a closer look at the CinemaScore grades may hold the key to the split in the case of “Blart 2.” Moviegoers under 18, the film’s target audience, gave it an “A-” CinemaScore.

“Clearly as seen through the eyes of a younger moviegoer, a live-action movie tailor made for them is irresistible and thus will likely not be the same catnip to a 30-plus year-old critic,” Dergarabedian said. In other words, while the film’s low-brow humor may indeed be juvenile, as several critics suggested, that’s not a problem if you happen to be a juvenile.

It’s possible that the critics are taking things too seriously. But kids’ humor can be funny, and the majority of the reviews said “Blart 2” wasn’t. Others found it sexist and guilty of body shaming, even if it was self-directed by James’ mall cop character.

The comedy is also accused of relentless product placement, with the N.Y. Post saying it seemed like an hour-and-half commercial for Steve Wynn’s casino. Still, a Sony exec says the critics need to lighten up.

“If critics were to see this with their families, they would laugh and laugh hard,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s distribution chief. “You know, the character of Blart is kind of an underdog, and that’s kind of the story of this movie.”

Despite being creamed by critics, the studio and star James, who produced with Adam Sandler and Todd Garner, can laugh all the way to the bank after its surprisingly strong opening. It’s production budget was a modest $30 million.

Watch the trailer for “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.”