Thursday, February 12, 2009

The World Needs a Fat Comedian

After Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was banned from movies, exhibitor trade magazines published a full-page ad featuring comedian Fatty Karr. The headline read, "The World Needs a Fat Comedian." I wonder if that headline is true. Does the world need a fat comedian? Look at all the things that have gone wrong in the world since Chris Farley died in 1997. But a chance to end our troubles has now arrived in the form of Paul Blart: Mall Cop, a feature comedy starring fat comedian Kevin James. Blart, which has taken in more than 100 million dollars at the box office, is the first bonafide comedy hit of 2009. It is not a profound, groundbreaking effort. The message of the movie is, simply, never underestimate a hypoglycemic fat man.

The filmmakers make it clear that Blart is not having a good life. He flunked out of the police academy due to a hypoglycemia-induced blackout and has had to settled working in a mall as a security guard. His oversized immigrant wife, who only married him to get a green card, abandoned him and their daughter years ago. Blart, who hasn't had the nerve to date, is persuaded by his daughter to sign up with an online dating service. He submits his profile information and then waits eagerly as the program searches for a match. A message flashing on the screen reads, "No matches found." Blart stares hopelessly at the message and begins to sob uncontrollably. Blart is a stereotypical lonely loser and his failures, as depicted in the movie, are nothing but maudlin. Kirk Honeycutt wrote in the Hollywood Reporter, "Great comics from Jerry Lewis to Peter Sellers have turned pathetic into comedic. But James never seems to able to get beyond pathetic."

Blart becomes smitten with a kiosk owner named Amy (Jayma Mays). He has a chance to talk with Amy when the mall workers get together at a bar after work, but he becomes drunk and falls out of a window. I found it hard to believe that a woman as pretty as Amy would be interested in Blart, but then it had been a long traditon to cast pretty actresses opposite less than handsome comedians. I am still shaking my head in disbelief when I think of Playmate Joan Staley as Don Knotts' love interest in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

For the first half of the movie, the filmmakers seem to be depending on the sight of James riding a Segway scooter to garner sufficient laughs. The movie seems to be best designed for the rare person who thinks Hollywood isn't making enough mall comedies. Still, James is likable enough as a bumbler to remain interesting. The first time I laughed out loud was when Blart was in an arcade playing the interactive sports game MegaDecathlon. The first event of the game, a 110-meter race, requires James to run on a treadmill and leap over imaginary hurdles. Blart gives the game everything he has but he ends up collapsing from exhaustion. The scene is sad and funny at the same time.

Blart is playing another arcade game, Rock Band, when a group of robbers take over the mall. The robbers present Blart with a life-and-death challenge. We know in a movie as predictable as this one that Blart will beat the villains. Still, it's fun when he starts taking down the bad guys one by one. At least, the remainder of the movie moves along at a brisk pace and has plenty of goofy slapstick.

In the end, Blart not only bests the villains, he also gets the girl. The couple embrace as Survivor's "I Can’t Hold Back" plays on the soundtrack. This old pop-rock song took me back to the eighties, when the world was a simpler and happier place and fat comedian John Candy was a box office champ. Perhaps the world does need a fat comedian.

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