Two Comedies from Sony Pictures
Gym Teacher: The Movie (June 12/09)
While it's hard to deny that Gym Teacher: The Movie has been geared almost exclusively to the tween set, the film generally remains a cut above its adolescent-oriented brethren thanks primarily to star Christopher Meloni's unapologetically goofy, flat-out hilarious performance. Meloni's entertainingly go-for-broke turn as title character Dave Stewie consistently elevates what's otherwise a fairly tedious story about a young boy who slowly-but-surely discovers his self-worth, as screenwriters Daniel and Steven Altiere's decision to emphasize elements of a decidedly puerile nature ensures the movie - more often than not - feels as though it'd be right at home alongside such kid-friendly programs as The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and That's So Raven. It's a vibe that's certainly perpetuated by a less-than-promising opening half hour that's downright aggressive in its childishness, yet there inevitably reaches a point at which Dave's gleefully absurd antics (ie he drops a juice box down the front of his pants, he refers to an unathletic student as a "ridiculous mess of a kid," etc) can't help but win over the viewer and the film consequently settles into a comfortable groove of amiable silliness. The presence of noted scene-stealers Amy Sedaris and David Alan Grier within supporting roles only cements Gym Teacher: The Movie's place as a surprisingly watchable piece of work, though it's clear that the degree to which one embraces Meloni's shamelessly broad performance ultimately plays a significant role in the film's success (or failure, depending).
Paul Blart: Mall Cop (July 26/09)
Undoubtedly the least entertaining effort from Adam Sandler's Happy Madison production company since 2006's Grandma's Boy, Paul Blart: Mall Cop casts Kevin James as Paul Blart - a well-meaning schlub who is presented with an opportunity to establish himself as more than just a low-rent security guard after a group of armed terrorists hold his shopping center hostage. The movie, written by James and Nick Bakay, boasts an air of pervasive mediocrity that's exacerbated by a relentless emphasis on lowest-common-denominator type jokes and gags, with the opening half hour focusing almost entirely on the various humiliations endured by the central character (ie Blart unsuccessfully attempts to ticket a senior on a rascal, Blart receives a beating from a morbidly-obese shopper, etc, etc). It's desperate stuff that's about as far from funny as one could possibly imagine and certainly proves effective at establishing (and perpetuating) an atmosphere of serious tedium, with James' admittedly charismatic work essentially rendered moot by the script's aggressively low-brow sensibilities. The movie does improve slightly once the terrorists arrive on the scene, admittedly, yet even this portion of the proceedings inevitably manages to disappoint - as director Steve Carr offers up a uniformly bland selection of villains that pose no real threat to James' character (ie skateboarding henchmen? Really?) The end result is a hopelessly underwhelming comedy that certainly doesn't bode well for James' shift from TV star to big-screen funnyman, and there's little doubt that the film's recent success at North American multiplexes is nothing short of baffling.