'Mall Cop' should have shopped for better support
A "Hotel for Dogs" allows foster child Bruce (Jake T. Austin) to reunite with his beloved dog named Friday.
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1 1/2 stars = Bad
It is entirely possible that a Jersey mall at Thanksgiving would have a store with a sign proclaiming: "Your Summer Suncare Center." Near a window display of swimsuits.
Someone apparently was so busy teaching Kevin James how to drive a Segway or dressing a Massachusetts mall in April for Christmas that they let a few details slide in "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." Like remembering to put the comedy in the comedy.
James is the title character, a single father who keeps trying (and failing) to become a New Jersey state trooper. He is a perfect Everyman, a sweet guy who lives with his mother and daughter and admits, "Pretty much everybody tends to write me off."
They don't, however, when he is unwittingly trapped in the nearly empty mall with a band of crooks led by skateboarders, BMX riders and other mad athletes who put his lumpy form to shame. The stakes are higher than usual because a kiosk operator named Amy (Jayma Mays, a mere 14 years younger), who has caught his eye and heart, is among a handful of hostages.
"Paul Blart: Mall Cop," directed by Steve Carr and penned by James and "The King of Queens" writer-producer Nick Bakay, plays like a long-form sitcom. Blart smacks his Segway into a van, women shoppers tussle over a pushup bra, and a person who doesn't own a cellphone instantly knows how to send text messages.
Product placement has never been easier, though, as actual stores double as backdrops.
Threats are leveled, but the PG rating keeps the danger in the mild zone. James, who held his own in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" and "Hitch," is the equivalent of a mall anchor store surrounded by second-class retailers with going-out-of-business sales.
Rated PG for some violence, mild crude and suggestive humor and language.
-- Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette movie editor
3 stars = Good
"Notorious" has the right idea about musician biographies, notably choosing a subject who died young and colorfully. Too many biopics focus on warhorses Johnny Cash, Ray Charles and the like, hastily bunching milestones into two hours then begging for sequels on the later years.
Christopher Wallace, also known as Biggie Smalls and the Notorious B.I.G., died in 1997 at age 24 with only two landmark rap albums to his credit, one released posthumously. His murder in a drive-by shooting hasn't been solved, and his street cred never questioned after he served time for dealing drugs.
Wallace was an original gangsta, a good kid who went bad and turned that into something better. It's a tragedy that fits neatly into two hours, made compelling by newcomer Jamal Woolard's excellent impersonation. Woolard has more than the appropriate girth; his bearish personality strips any unsavory taste from the character's irresponsible acts.
After Brooklyn native Biggie's release from prison, a demo tape lands on the desk of budding impresario Sean "Puffy" Combs (Derek Luke), and the name-dropping pleasures of "Notorious" begin. Wallace is soon cheating on his baby mama with Lil Kim (Naturi Naughton) and Faith Evans (Antonique Smith) and partying with Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie), a future rival in the East Coast vs. West Coast rapper war that eventually claims both icons.
Rated R for strong profanity, nudity, sexual content, drug abuse, violence.
-- Steve Persall, St. Petersburg Times
2 stars = Mediocre
"Hotel for Dogs" is a fairy tale -- for foster children and homeless dogs.
Adults who are homeless need not apply for this PG-rated comedy starring Emma Roberts as 16-year-old Andi and Jake T. Austin as her 11-year-old brother, Bruce. They are orphans (their parents are seen briefly in a photo and no details given about their deaths) who have had five sets of foster parents in a couple of months.
They're stuck with a pair of doozies -- stingy, tin-eared aspiring rockers played by Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon -- who have no idea the children have a pet they've been hiding for years. After the dog, named Friday, scampers into an abandoned hotel, Andi and Bruce decide to create a haven for homeless dogs. If the siblings can't enjoy a real, loving home, maybe the dogs can have a pooch paradise.
Some newfound friends pitch in, and it's the tweens and teens against all outsiders, especially the cops and animal control officers who are the modern-day versions of Cruella De Vil. The clandestine canine operation goes well until the inevitable mutt mayhem.
Although younger moviegoers may know Roberts from "Nancy Drew" and ï¿ 1/2"Aquamarine" ï¿ 1/2and Austin as Max from "Wizards of Waverly Place," adults will be relieved to see Don Cheadle as a social worker. He raises the bar of any project, but even he cannot yank this into the recommended range.
Rated PG for brief mild thematic elements, language and some crude humor.
-- Barbara Vancheri
2 1/2 stars = Average
The success of "Slumdog Millionaire" has Warner Bros. thinking America's ready for the magical wackiness known as Bollywood cinema, thus "Chandni Chowk to China" earns a limited release in the U.S. This zany blend of "Kung Fu Hustle," "Kung Fu Panda" and curry sauce is not a bad way to introduce audiences to India's Bollywood film traditions.
It's the sort of lark that Hong Kong and Hollywood have been slapping into 75-minute C-movies for decades. Here, thanks to toe-tapping musical interludes in between tiresome genre conventions, the thin but cluttered story takes more than 21/2hours to work out.
Opening at the AMC Loews. Rated PG-13 for violence and martial arts action.
-- Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel
First Published January 16, 2009 12:00 am