Paul Blart: Mall Cop was the number-one movie in America for two weekends in a row before falling to second place last weekend. I don’t think anybody predicted it would land on top its first week, let alone its second.
Its PG rating probably helped, bringing in parents who might’ve stayed away from the kind of movies the film’s producer, Adam Sandler, usually stars in. But Sandler scored a family hit over the holidays starring in Bedtime Stories ($108 million and counting), and since Will Smith faltered with the drama Seven Pounds ($69 million; A.O. Scott of the New York Times said it's "among the most transcendently, eye-poppingly, call-your-friend-ranting-in-the-middle-of-the-night-just-to-go-over-it-one-more-time crazily awful motion pictures ever made"), does that mean Sandler is now the biggest movie star in the world? I believe it does. However, his last PG-13-rated comedy, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, barely crossed the $100 million finish line last summer (final gross: $100,018,837), which means his next comedy not designed for the kiddies needs to top it in order to keep the box office analysts off his back.
Paul Blart’s success also has something to do with its star, Kevin James, who costarred with Sandler in 2007’s gay-panic comedy I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and costarred with Smith in 2005’s Hitch. He was still doing his long-running CBS sitcom The King of Queens when Hitch came out; its nine-season run ended two months before Chuck and Larry was released. That show is now on TV every day thanks to syndication. So people know who Kevin James is. And they appear to like him.
“In these tough, recession-laden times, you’d think people wouldn’t want a movie that’s based around a mall, but they totally do,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the president of box-office tracking firm Media by Numbers, in an Associated Press roundup of the top movies the week Paul Blart was released. Now, I might not want to see a movie about people working in a mall that’s dying one storefront at a time, because that sounds depressing, but I don’t think people will mind paying to see a movie based in a mall that isn’t about to close. Everybody likes watching movies about rich people, especially if they become poor before getting their money back, but even if they stay rich the whole time, that’s fine—we escape at movies, and we’d rather be a fly on the wall of some rich jerk’s life than someone more like ourselves, whose bathroom fixtures aren’t nearly as fancy.
Besides, Paul Blart is a movie about a fat guy. “Fatty fall down” is funny to lots of people. If Adam Sandler’s friend and former Saturday Night Live castmate Chris Farley were still alive, he’d be playing this role, not Kevin James. Besides, the main character’s last name rhymes with “fart.” What do I gotta do, draw a map for you, Dergarabedian?!
To be fair, Dergarabedian is quoted every single weekend by the Associated Press for analysis on why the #1 movie is #1 instead of #5, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s too tired to give a good answer sometimes. In the summer of ’06, when Superman Returns was released to solid opening-day numbers, he said something like “People really seem to be in the mood to see superheroes right now.” They’re also in the mood to get out of the house and, with any luck, shut their kids up for a few hours. You’re not telling me anything I don’t know, Paul!
Of course, the Associated Press shouldn’t quote him if he has nothing worth quoting, but that’s not Dergarabedian’s fault. If nothing else, his last name keeps proofreaders on their toes, so in that sense he provides a much more valuable service than anyone whose name rhymes with “fart.”
Speaking of malls, back in November I was curious to see if I could find anything online about Record Bar, a former chain of record stores that had a spot at the Macon Mall when I was growing up in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Thanks to Wikipedia, it's easy to feel like everything from your past is just a few clicks away on your computer (well, not everything, but that's what Facebook is for—it allows you to voluntarily invade your own privacy and share pictures and memories from high school that had previously been offline for a very good reason), but there was hardly anything on the Internet about Record Bar.
However, I did find a blog post from August of '06 that's written by a former employee. The comments under his eight short paragraphs stretch into 2009. It’s fun to see former coworkers reconnect after many years apart and share their memories from the '70s and '80s, though a sentence in one of the comments speaks to the dangers of nostalgia: "Sigh, it kinda makes me sad." Coming down from a nostalgia high can be a bitch, especially if your life now doesn't quite resemble the dreams of your teens and 20s. But living up to those dreams is a tall order for anyone. For one thing, those dreams were concocted by someone with the metabolism of a hummingbird. Don't blame yourself—your body, like your government, gave you false hope.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop, you’ll be lucky if you’re remembered as fondly as Record Bar is 30 years from now. Now fall down again, fatty. I need a good laugh.