*/**** Image B+ Sound B Extras C
starring Kevin James, Jayma Mays, Keir O'Donnell, Shirley Knight
screenplay by Kevin James & Nick Bakay
directed by Steve Carr
ZERO STARS/**** Image A Sound A Extras D
starring Adam Sandler, Keri Russell, Guy Pearce, Russell Brand
screenplay by Matt Lopez and Tim Herlihy
directed by Adam Shankman
by Ian Pugh For Kevin James and his co-writer, the talking cat from "Sabrina the Teenage Witch", it's not enough that Paul Blart (James) is a fat moron prone to knocking things over with the sheer force of his girth--he must also be completely oblivious, fully convinced that he possesses more power and responsibilities as a mall cop than any reasonable person would believe. So what to do when Paul's newest trainee (Keir O'Donnell) turns out to be a Hans Gruber wannabe who takes over the mall with his hip young gang in a bid to clean it out? A feature-length parody of Die Hard has long stopped being an enticing prospect, given that Die Hard itself has been deconstructed to death by the fact of its enormous influence on the action genre (to the degree that the "Die Hard in an X" template actually became the dominant model for action movies in the 1990s), with the proverbial final nail driven in by a third sequel, Live Free or Die Hard, that concluded there was no point in still pretending our everyman hero was anything but invincible. As Paul Blart: Mall Cop sees it, the only way to endue the John McClane archetype with any tension is to make him fat and stupid. The first time we see Paul, he's shovelling food into his mouth, his sweater stained with perspiration from beneath his man-boobs, shortly before his hypoglycaemia kicks in and sidelines him from joining the police academy. But he's got a big heart or something, and that's what counts, right?
Wrong. In bending over backwards to transform this schmuck into an unlikely hero--emphasis on the "unlikely"--Paul Blart: Mall Cop mistakes pity for empathy. Given that the first third of the picture is devoted to a perennial loser who drunkenly embarrasses himself in front of his dream girl (Jayma Mays), his preordained victory over the mall's invaders and winning of the hot redhead's affections has nothing to do with what sort of person he is. At least, not in the way you're thinking. Die Hard proposes that, left to his own devices, a quick-witted man can overcome insurmountable odds; Paul Blart: Mall Cop posits that a stumbling buffoon should overcome the same odds, since, gawrsh, he's such a pathetic human being it's the least life could do for him, ain't it? James is a likable enough actor, yet the movie is never funny. It mines its humour exclusively from Paul's pratfalling failures, simultaneously distancing him from us and demanding our sympathies--and it's not exciting, his triumph, not because it's preordained, but because it isn't a reward earned by pluck so much as it's an obligatory bone tossed at him for being a sad-eyed puppy dog. Even when Paul is draped in black from head to toe, the idea that he could ever be an action hero is at once laughably ridiculous and soporifically comforting.It's just a movie, cry 150 million dollars' worth of defenders, but that's the problem, isn't it? What makes Observe and Report, Jody Hill's interpretation of the same basic premise, such a difficult film to absorb is how it examines the factors that would realistically mold the personality of an overzealous security guard--a personality that doesn't lend itself to feel-good dismissal, what with the weight of failure obviously feeding a certain madness in him--and portrays the inevitable victory as something awful and inappropriate. Really, the only reason you should have to sit through Paul Blart: Mall Cop is as part of an instructive double feature with Observe and Report. It's the quintessence of everything Hill rails against: the lame, uncritical comedy; the inexplicable rage directed at foreign cultures (found in a goofy Indian stalker (Adhir Kalyan) who inadvertently becomes Paul's computer-intelligence man); and the idea that a loser deserves to succeed mainly to relieve an audience's guilt over laughing at him for a solid hour-and-a-half.
Furthermore, it's high time somebody produced another Punch-Drunk Love; that Adam Sandler's immature sociopath-cum-populist hero is now being specifically peddled to toddlers and grade-schoolers strikes me as a dangerous turn of events, if not exactly a shocking one. Bedtime Stories charges Sandler's blue-collar dickhead Skeeter with the care of his niece and nephew (Laura Ann Kesling and Jonathan Morgan Heit), whereupon Skeeter takes the opportunity to complain about his life as a hotel handyman in the form of thinly-veiled fairytales. When the kids add happy endings that come true, "Word Processor of the Gods"-like, he attempts to steer the magic in his favour by crafting tales that see him conquering his professional rival (Guy Pearce) and the boss's daughter (Teresa Palmer). Whether it's right for Skeeter to treat his sister's children as golden geese, promising money and sex at his demand, is never addressed--indeed, the only thing for which he's actively indicted is preaching to the young'ns that happy endings aren't possible whenever things aren't going his way.
Naturally, from the very first frame Skeeter's ultimate happy ending is never in doubt--but unlike Paul Blart: Mall Cop, you're supposed to feel perfectly comfortable handing him the keys to the kingdom and letting the rest of the world serve as his punchline. Driven by a particularly selfish kind of fantasy--with Skeeter/Sandler giving himself the opportunity to play John Wayne, Ben-Hur, and Han Solo--Bedtime Stories lives and dies by the idea that Adam Sandler is awesome and dwarves are inherently funny. (Seriously--did you ever notice they're not of average height? Isn't that fucking HILARIOUS?) Bedtime Stories is so loathsome because it tries to extend the shelf life of Sandler's noxious, egocentric shtick by slipping it in the Trojan horse of a kid's movie: Playing another man granted license to manipulate the universe to his own ends (as he does literally here and in Click; as he does figuratively in everything else), he learns superficial lessons while occasionally flanked by an idiot sidekick (Russell Brand) and Rob Schneider in another barnside-broad ethnic performance. You can ask why Sandler continues to crank out the same movie again and again despite showing sparks of talent outside his wheelhouse, though I suspect the answer is depressingly self-evident. The real puzzler is why director Adam Shankman would expend all the goodwill he earned with Hairspray on trashy piffle like this, which practically directs itself.
Sony brings Paul Blart: Mall Cop to Blu-ray in a curiously dull, blown-out 1.85:1, 1080p presentation that equalizes night and day, indoors and out--nearly every scene is imbued with a distracting, bland greyness. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio is similarly unimpressive: somewhat contrary to the subject matter, dialogue is prioritized over all other facets of the mix. (Things do amp up a bit when it comes time to play some licensed music.) On another track, find a genial, self-deprecating rap session with Kevin James and producer Todd Garner that, from their perpetually casual tone of voice, makes it sound like the entire crew forged a nice camaraderie over the course of filming. Almost everything they have to say, however, could and perhaps should be appended with the phrase "I guess you had to be there."
Video-based supplements begin with ten standard-def deleted scenes (12 mins. in toto) that, while nothing special, do offer in the earlygoing a few pleasant moments with Paul on the job presumably excised for humanizing the inelegant Mr. Blart and not containing enough slapstick. A shitload of featurettes--well, eleven--follow, featuring interviews with the cast and crew that pretend to glean the production but typically revolve around goofing off on the set. Hey, at least they were having fun. "Kevin James: Not Your Average Mall Cop" (6 mins., HD) is, title aside, a fairly comprehensive overview of the forces that brought the film together; "Action Sports Junkies" (6 mins., HD) profiles the action-sports aficionados who comprise the film's sinister gang; "Stunts" (10 mins., HD) delves into the specifics of the slapstick action with comments from stunt coordinator Chris O'Hara (good to know that James did so many of his own stunts); and "The Mall" (5 mins., HD) discusses the thrills and difficulties of shooting in a working shopping centre.
From there, the bonus material simply gives up any pretense of interest/usefulness. Shot and scored like a skateboarding video, "On Set with Mike 'Rooftop' Escamilla" (6 mins., HD) showcases candid stunt footage and "Fun on Set" (6 mins., HD) is best described as a behind-the-scenes blooper reel. "Mike V. vs. Mall Cop" (3 mins., HD) stages a confrontation between James (playing Blart--or, at least, a mall cop) and extreme skater/cinematic thug Mike Vallely, and "Mall Cop Response" (2 mins., HD) provides James's interviewed reaction to said confrontation. More of the same in "Thoughts with Kevin James" (2 mins., HD), a less filtered version of the actor's comedy routine that reaches into the semantics of food courts and moustaches--not much of a surprise that his "thoughts" basically boil down to "fat people are fat." "Free Running vs. Parkour" (3 mins., HD) offers a too-brief discussion-through-example of the two arts, while "Sugar" (2 mins., HD) sees the acrobatic Victor Lopez running and leaping across the mall on a mad dash to deliver James a packet of--what else?--sugar. Finally, a link to BD Live allows you to connect to Cinechat, apparently an Instant Messaging service that lets you chat with your friends as you watch the movie! Just what I always wanted! An unnecessary promo for Blu-ray cues up on startup and joins trailers for Click, The House Bunny, You Don't Mess with the Zohan, Ghostbusters, 50 First Dates, Hitch, R.V., and Hancock under the "Previews" menu.
Bedtime Stories docks on Disney Blu-ray in a three-disc set that includes the retail DVD as well as a Digital Copy, I suppose for parents with too many gadgets and too little regard for what their children watch. Maybe HiDef has distorted my perception, but the accompanying DVD's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image seemingly looks blurrier and more smeared than it should. Makes you wonder if Disney's trying to forcibly push the slowpokes into the next generation of home video--a notion bolstered by a guilt-tripping Blu-ray promo starring Cody and Dylan Sprouse on the same platter. The film's 1080p BD incarnation does have the advantage of a brilliantly sharp transfer, albeit one that throws the cinematography's overlit flatness into painful relief. Rupert Gregson-Williams's score--which sounds exactly like that for every other children's film ever made (think orchestra swells and meandering strings)--is deftly spread across the soundstage via the attendant 5.1 DTS-HD track, an unimpeachable rendering of an uneven mix.
A brief helping of equally brief extras--each infested with too many clips from the movie--begins with "Until Gravity Do Us Part" (4 mins., HD), which surveys the multi-stage production of the Flash Gordon/Star Wars-inspired bedtime story, complete with interviews from the visual effects supervisor and fight choreographer. In "To All the Little People" (6 mins., HD), Heit and Kesling display surprising sophistication whilst describing their lives on set--they definitely deserve more substantial credit than Sandler's impish "kids are great!" platitudes. Next is "It's Bugsy" (4 mins., HD), another one of those infuriating docs wherein the cast and crew fawn over some animal/fictional character (in this case, the bug-eyed gerbil that accounts for a good 40% of Bedtime Stories' attempts at humour) as a big star who was great to work with. No "Outtakes" (6 mins., HD) for me, thanks, and "Deleted Scenes" (10 mins., HD) are merely negligible extensions of already-lousy jokes from the final cut. A link to Disney BD Live wraps up the disc along with a block of Sneak Peeks--i.e., commercials for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, G-Force, Monsters Inc., Disney Blu-ray, and Disney Movie Rewards--that also cues up on startup. Originally published: May 27, 2009.