Film Shorts -- Paul Blart: Mall Cop

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The climate of low expectations that made some commentators twist themselves into pretzels insisting Bush was a fine president also makes movie comedies like Paul Blart: Mall Cop seem pretty darn good. And in truth, Mall Cop isn't nearly as bad as it ought to be, given its shopworn plot (misfit who lives with his mom becomes an unlikely hero) and unexceptional lead, King of Queens' Kevin James. Directed by Steve Carr (Are We Done Yet?, Daddy Day Care) and written by James with Nick Bakay, it earns a passing grade for being agreeable, fitfully amusing and considerably less offensive than most movies of its type. James plays the titular Blart, a fat, socially awkward, Segway-riding mall security guard who longs to become a state trooper but falls into a hypoglycemic faint during training. The movie gives him a rather touching home life that includes a doting mom (the redoubtable Shirley Knight) who feeds him copious pies, and a loving daughter, Maya (endearing Raini Rodriguez), the issue of a short-lived marriage of convenience to an illegal immigrant.

Maya wants to find her dad a girlfriend on the Internet, but he sets his sights on pretty Amy (Jayma Mays), who sells hair extensions at a kiosk at the mall. He fumbles badly at impressing Amy until one fateful Black Friday, when a band of thieves, led by a rogue security trainee (Keir O'Donnell), invade the mall. (The holiday theme makes you wonder if the movie was supposed to be released at Christmas.) Realizing that Amy is among the robbers' hostages, the unarmed Blart decides to take on the gang of thieves, who sport tattoos and sail across the mall on skateboards and BMX bikes. Although it's obvious where the story is headed, the antics are fairly watchable, with some reasonably good jokes here and there. Amid a theater full of rapt children, I noticed that while there were guns and threats, there was no bloodshed or painful violence, which is impressive in its way. This is mild, forgettable, non-scary fare suitable as Saturday-afternoon entertainment for the very young or undemanding. - Pamela Zoslov Che

An epic-scaled biopic without a single conventional biopic moment, Steven Soderbergh's staggeringly ambitious Che breaks most of the rules of commercial cinema while achieving near greatness completely on its own sui generis terms. Split into two parts of roughly 135 minutes apiece, Che demands to be seen from start to finish - preferably with a bathroom/smoke break in between. The film's first half is the more classically structured, as it follows Che (played by co-producer Benicio del Toro in a performance of unsurpassed naturalism and delicacy) from his first meeting with Fidel Castro (a superb Demian Bichir) in 1955, to his key role in the Cuban Revolution that began a year later. Interspersed between scenes of Che and his army marching to Havana to overthrow Batista are snapshot glimpses of his 1964 visit to America where he addressed the United Nations. Part two is devoted exclusively to Che's failed Bolivian expedition of 1966-67 that ends with his execution at the hands of the Bolivian army.

With its singular emphasis on "procedure" at the expense of dramaturgy, it's as if Peter Watkins in his ascetic La Commune (Paris, 1871) mode had directed Lawrence of Arabia instead of Ÿber-romanticist David Lean. Some critics have described Soderbergh's Che as a metaphor for the filmmaking process itself: the auteur director/general marching to either greatness or defeat on a seemingly impossible mission. In its single-minded determination to strip away the standard Hollywood biopic clichés - and its unwillingness to provide the character of Che Guevara with any sort of interior (i.e., psychological) life - Soderbergh has made an epic that's both maximalist and minimalist. - Milan Paurich Opens Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre

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