Review: No. 1 'Paul Blart' Is Laughing All the Way to the Bank

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What is Paul Blart telling us?

To ask "Who is Paul Blart?" could mean you no longer live in mainstream America, even if you think you do.

Blart is a portly, hypoglycemic, Segway-savvy security guard in the fictional West Orange Pavilion shopping mall. There's a comedy-adventure movie about him, starring Kevin James, called "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." There were commercials on TV for it, over and over, before its Jan. 16 opening. Some people made a mental note: Don't go.

And what did "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" make in its first weekend?

Nearly $32 million. (That's pretty good.)

And what did the movie earn last weekend, once the list of Oscar nominees was out (sans Blart, which wasn't released in time to qualify)?

An additional $21.6 million. (In 10 days, it earned more than twice what it cost to make. It made twice as much last weekend as 10-Oscar nominee "Slumdog Millionaire" and 23 times as much as eight-Oscar nominee "Milk.")

Oh, there are explanations: The sheer number of multiplex screens on which "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" is playing (3,144) is a factor, as is the promise that the movie has no foul language, nudity or gory violence and therefore may be happily guffawed at by the whole family. (The prevailing theory is that "Paul Blart" is a stealth cartoon that has been heavily marketed for months to children and parents.) Also, January is a fine time for Hollywood to bring out its dead -- a ghastly spree of cheap thrillers, screamy horror movies and date flicks that don't quite measure up to studios' hopes for the Valentine's Day market.

Nevertheless, the success of "Paul Blart" -- the No. 1 movie for two weeks in a row, and looking like a strong contender for a third -- is a particular set of fingernails on a particular chalkboard upon which are the numbers that film enthusiasts focus much attention.

One culture blogger at the Fresno Bee summed her feelings up in eight words, in "An Open Letter to America Upon Learning 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop' Is Number One at the Box Office for the Second Weekend in a Row":

"Dear America, What the [deleted]? Yours, Heather McLane."

"Look, I understand," said Columbia Pictures President Doug Belgrad. "I don't know if there's any way to explain it other than to tell you that I know when we make a family movie, and as someone who takes my kids to family movies, that there's a real value in it and not everyone may realize this. It's about having a shared experience. In these financial times, it's an opportunity to escape at a reasonable value, something that costs less than an amusement park or a ballgame. The shared experience is what has real meaning to people."

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