'Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2': Kevin James Talks Playing the Underdog in a Vegas-Set Sequel

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP
Kevin James

Director Andy Fickman compared Blart to 'Pink Panther's' Clouseau: "The world around him was legit, it was him who was bumbling. ... The bad guys are real, what they want is real; Blart's the one you put in the situation."

It was a record-setting event in New York City's Lincoln Square on Saturday when the cast of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and 108 uniformed security professionals gathered to celebrate the film's world premiere. Mayor Bill de Blasio declared it New York City Security Guard Day, as Guinness World Records recognized new marks for the largest Segway riding lesson and most simultaneous 360-degree Segway spins — all in the name of Kevin James' mustachioed send-up to mall enforcement.

It has been six years since the first Blart film — which out-earned its budget by over $150 million — debuted in theaters, but for James, a return to the character required heightened scope and stake. "We wanted to do it only if it could be bigger and better, and that's what we did," he said on the red carpet. "We never planned on making one until people were asking me: 'What's going on with this character? When can we see him again?' And when my fans were asking that enough, I said: 'I just don't want to do a movie that's parallel to the first one. I want a bigger plot form, and make it bigger in every way, with the physical comedy, the emotion, everything like that.' "

 

 

The film takes Blart and daughter Maya to Las Vegas for a mall cop convention, and marks the first time a film was permitted to shoot inside the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Resort. James' older brother and longtime collaborator Gary Valentine said the unprecedented access was most unusual: "We had the run of the place. It felt weird. We're doing scenes [with] normal people just walking around, and they blocked off a little area for us to shoot a scene. It was like guerrilla style."

Raini Rodriguez, who plays Maya and whose brother Rico of Modern Family fame was also in attendance, found filming the sequel a vastly different experience than the first, which was shot when she was 14 years old. "I was a kid when I did the first one, so I was on kid hours and was only able to work every now and then. This one, I was able to be there almost every scene, and it was awesome. I got to do a lot more action-packed stuff this time around."

Part of the effectiveness of the first Paul Blart was in its ability to fold comedy, action and heartfelt characters into a single package. While director Andy Fickman was new to the Blart universe, he approached the storytelling with a decisive dichotomy. "I always likened it to Peter Sellers in Pink Panther as Clouseau: that the world around him was legit, it was him who was bumbling. And so here, we tried to keep it so that world around Blart was a legit world in Vegas. The bad guys are real, what they want is real; Blart's the one you put in the situation."

 

 

In this way, the Blart character walks a line of self-seriousness and self-mockery, of being the hero and the joke. "I live that line," James said. "I'm that guy. I've been an underdog a lot in my life and it's nice to root for people who just kind of want to do the right thing, and even though it seems like the odds are stacked against you and he gets knocked down a lot, he does. But to see him get up again, that defined who he is."

The Sony security hack last year could have been another potential knock down for Blart, as portions of the script leaked out, but Fickman said the slip didn't divert any of their intended plans. "I think we always knew what Paul Blart: Mall Cop was going to do. I don't think that there was ever a moment where we're like, 'Oh get rid of the Segway. I can't believe they know about the Segway.' No, I think we always had our hearts set on what we wanted to do."

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