The thin comic appeal of Kevin James is laid on a bit thicker in "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," his first solo star vehicle for the big screen. As a loner-loser who can never pass the New Jersey State Police exam and never get the girl, James practically channels John Candy at his most sympathetic.
Blart, a single dad smitten with the blonde (Jayma Mays) who sells hair extensions from a kiosk, always goes the extra mile, even when elderly customers are running him over with their scooters.
Blart instructs a rookie in the ways of the job, "giving the illusion that you have a gun." He is a master of his domain and of the steed that carries him through it, a Segway. James' balletic mastery of the vehicle is easily the best thing about "Mall Cop." The Segway becomes an extension of Blart's persona - underestimated, able to take a licking and keep on ticketing.
James, a native of Stony Brook who is a graceful funnyman in the John Belushi- Jackie Gleason mold, never really transcends this family-friendly comedy's thin story.
The movie is about Blart's greatest challenge - a mall robbery with hostages. Blart must fend off trigger-happy SWAT cops led by the guy who bullied him in high school (Bobby Cannavale) and pick off a pack of skateboard-riding robbers, rescue the girl and save the day.
Still, the big man finds big laughs in his character's mall savviness, his self-deprecating use of his girth and his many Segway moments.
PLOT A Segway-riding New Jersey mall cop confronts a hostage crisis.
CAST Kevin James, Bobby Cannavale, Jayma Mays, Shirley Henderson
PLAYING AT Area theaters. Buy tickets
BOTTOM LINE Channeling John Candy, James is likable, but he never really transcends the movie's thin story.