Dir: Steve Carr . US. 2009. 87mins.

A depressingly strained comedic riff on Die Hard, Paul Blart: Mall Cop mixes fat jokes, a sappy romantic subplot and hostages-in-a-mall action elements without much verve or wit. As his first starring vehicle after playing second-fiddle to bigger box-office names in recent films, Kevin James only rarely gets to display the sweet, lovable oafishness that's been the key to his past success. Neither funny nor exciting, Mall Cop is one of those woeful duds studios dump on audiences in the cold of January every year, helpfully tipping off the public to its shoddy quality.

When it opens in the US on January 16, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which was produced by Adam Sandler, will hope to have the undivided attention of teen boys looking for broad laughs. James rose to fame as the star of the popular sitcom The King Of Queens and has cashed in on that name recognition through supporting roles in Hitch and I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry. Still, don't look for Mall Cop to be a breakout success, although it's always possible that it could match other Sandler-produced laughers like The Animal ($85m worldwide) and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo ($93m).

Overweight, hypoglycaemic Paul Blart (James) works as a security guard in a New Jersey mall, where he becomes infatuated with a pretty employee named Amy (Mays). Unfortunately, their tentative courtship hits a snag when a gang of robbers (led by O'Donnell) storm the mall and hold some employees (including Amy) hostage, forcing Paul to thwart the bad guys and save his true love.

Directed indifferently by Steve Carr (Daddy Day Care), Mall Cop was produced by Adam Sandler's Happy Madison Productions, and the first half of the film very much feels like Sandler's early goofy comedies, especially Happy Gilmore, which similarly featured a hapless outsider who falls for a pretty girl while being mocked by all those around him. James, who co-wrote the script with Nick Bakay, goes for the same style of excessively broad comedy, and he uses his plus-size figure to decent comedic effect, especially when piloting a Segway electric two-wheeler around the mall. But his charisma can only do so much for a film that descends from being a predictable opposites-attract romantic comedy into a dull action-thriller, as Paul must single-handedly defeat a team of armed, acrobatic robbers who can do improbably agile midair stunts but can't kill a guy on a souped-up electric go-cart.

Mall Cop is beset with loud busyness and a lot of obvious jokes revolving around how fat and pathetic Paul is. Even worse, it provides James with little to work with - one assumes he had to prove himself as a sidekick in other stars' movies in order to get his own starring vehicle, and after demonstrating a likeable, common-man touch on The King Of Queens and Hitch, it's disappointing that this uninspired film was the result of those years of effort.

Just as James struggles to make unfunny material tolerable, so too does the supporting cast fall flat. As the love interest, Mays is saddled with playing a prototypical broad-comedy cutie, the sort of role where her makeup, hair and tight clothing are more important than her actual talent. Rannazzisi makes little impression as Paul's weasely competition for Amy's affections, and O'Donnell, as the criminal mastermind, seems to be having as much fun as everyone else, which is to say very little at all.

Production companies
Relativity Media
Happy Madison
Columbia Pictures

Domestic distribution
Sony Pictures Entertainment

Adam Sandler
Jack Giarraputo
Todd Garner
Kevin James
Barry Bernardi

Executive producer
Jeff Sussman

Kevin James
Nick Bakay

Russ T Alsobrook

Production design
Perry Andelin Blake

Jeff Freeman

Waddy Wachtel

Main cast
Kevin James
Jayma Mays
Keir O'Donnell
Bobby Cannavale
Stephen Rannazzisi
Shirley Knight