reelz.com heads out to the set of the new Kevin James comedy to see if the King of Queens has what it takes to be a leading man.
It’s not everyday that a studio chooses to shoot on location in a mall, let alone the mall that one used to go to as a teenager growing up. But that was just the case for me with Sony's new Kevin James action-comedy, Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
In Paul Blart: Mall Cop, James (The King of Queens, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry) plays, well, a New Jersey mall cop named Paul Blart. But not just any mall cop, a very enthusiastic one. "He keeps trying to make the Jersey State Troopers and he just falls short every time they test him," says James. "He's so into it. And then he became a security guard and that has become his love. He loves what he does."
Blart's love for his job is tested when a band of criminals posing as employees of the Santa's Village Christmas display launch a siege on the mall and only he can save the day. "He knows this place better than anybody, so he basically turns the mall on them," James explains.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a project especially close to James's heart -- not only is this his first star vehicle, but he co-wrote it with Nick Bakay (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, The King of Queens) and Steve Pink (High Fidelity, Grosse Pointe Blank). James says the idea was born of a combination of his wanting to do a part that involved his being in uniform and his love of the Segway, which plays a major role in the movie. "I had driven a Segway for a promo for The King of Queens, and I thought it was the funniest vehicle I have ever seen. It's just naturally very funny the way you back out on it," he explains.
We got to see some people scooting around on one, and I will say I understand what he means. Plus, it sounds like as fun as the Segway is to watch, it's not so easy to run. Evidently there is a scene where James and his character's love interest, played by Jayma Mays (Ugly Betty, Epic Movie), are having a romantic scoot around the mall, and in real life James was having issues operating the machinery. "I lost control of it, and I was circling and couldn't stop it," he divulges.
James and director Steve Carr (Are We Done Yet?, Daddy Day Care) both say audiences should expect a full combination of comedy and action from their movie, like "Die Hard in a mall." Says Carr: "A lot of action movies now that are like little comic bits in it where they say a snarky line, but it's really an action movie. Back when I was watching movies, Beverly Hills Cop or 48 Hrs., there's a real combination of the two. It's comedy and action."
Thanks undoubtedly in part to the tax breaks enacted in 2006 to make Massachusetts more shoot-friendly, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is one of several movies that is filming in my home state right now. This one just so happens to be shooting at the Burlington Mall, in which I logged some quality hours as a big-banged, be-permed adolescent of the early '90s, so visiting the actual set was somewhat of a surreal experience for me. Furthermore, it's not just that the movie is filming at the Burlington Mall, but that the mall is, in fact, still open for business as usual, which means lots of alternately perplexed or star-struck Bay State shoppers taking a break from buying cologne at Lord & Taylor to watch the action.
"I come from Brooklyn where we didn't really have malls. It's difficult," says Carr. "The great news is everyone is really supportive and people are really interested and it's a great source of energy when you do get tired. Sound is an issue, but it makes up for it -- the energy you get from the people."
Fortunately for the locals (although perhaps not so much for the cast and crew), much of the movie is shooting at night -- so the Mall Cop set can have the whole mall to themselves. When we arrived during the day, aside from a small set up just outside the Macy's and Cheesecake Factory end of the mall, very little of the movie set stood out. This is because the set designer had gone to great lengths to make sure that all the touches that are essential to the movie -- from the bank storefront where the action shooting that day was taking place to various benches and other pieces of the mall architecture that will serve as launching points for stunts -- blend in seamlessly with the mall itself.
In fact, unless you were a Burlington Mall regular like me, you'd be hard-pressed to tell which of the storefronts and touches were there for the movie and which ones had been there all along -- and even I didn't notice them until they were pointed out for me. Which means, basically, that the set is terrific because it is so real. Sure, there's a big Christmas display in the center of the mall even though it's May (the movie is set during the holidays), but somehow it just seems to belong there. And aside from the periodic and amusingly meta-ironic event of the actual Burlington Mall security guards having to move shoppers along from gaping for too long at the shots, everyone seems to be coexisting marvelously.
Although the long night shoots are certainly tiring to the cast and crew, some have been taking special advantage of the situation. "We've been sneaking in late at night and riding the ramps," says professional BMX racer Mike Escamilla, who plays one of the bad guys. Then again, Escamilla doesn't need it to be night to make the most of his surroundings. "We actually just did a rebel run through the mall. The security guard wasn't stoked," he laughs.
Escamilla joins a handful of other X Games types in the bad guy crew, including pro skateboarders Jason Ellis and Mike Vallely, as well as some free runners (people who combine some sort of crazy running/dance/Matrix-type moves that allow them to do insane things like run up walls. One of them did backflips for us in heels. It was insane). It seems that it's not just any group of criminals that are going to take over the mall, but rather a group of very mercenaries that are going to use their very unusual talents to do so.
"We were all trying to find a different way from having these typical German guys take over the mall. That's exactly what we're having fun with, but we wanted to do something different," explains James. So while the bad-ass athlete criminals try to wreak havoc, Blart haunts them like a comedic, security guard version of John McClane. "He knows the mall so well that he uses it against them. And the power of the Segway. The Segway is his gun," James says.
Indeed, a fact you will note, is that while mall security guards do wear uniforms, they aren't generally armed. "The heaviest they can do, their version of a massive shoot out is just calling the real police. That's as crazy as it gets. They make a phone call," James jokes. But that's one of the creative challenges of the movie James says--to come up with ways that Blart can triumph over the bad guys without using any real weapons. "It's a fun mix of trying to be scary and intense and reality and just having fun with this idiot loose in the mall -- me."
As funny as James is (and he was indeed funny on the set -- down to the amusing mustache is sporting for the role), the stunts likely what fans are really going to leave the theater talking about. Because the bad guys in this movie are played by real professional extreme athletes who often double as stuntmen, let's just say they're pushing the envelope.
While we didn't get to see any real stunts being filmed, we sure did get to hear about them. And the notion of all this crazy stuff going on in my childhood mall basically blows my mind. There's jumps across roofs, running up walls, Segway chases, and even a skateboard jump into an elevator. "It's never been done before," says Vallely who doesn't sound the least bit nervous about the stunt, which had yet to be filmed at the time of the visit. "Santa's sleigh is going to be set up like he's about to launch off into orbit, and I’m going to use that ramp that his sleigh is on and fly off of that, cover a lot of ground up into the air. And the elevator will be going up and I'll land on it somehow and then break into it." Sure, no problem.
"The stunt coordinator and his crew will figure out the basic physics of the thing, but I eyeball things," Vallely continues, nonplussed. "I never make anything the first attempt, so there will be some carnage the first couple of times until I actually suss it out."
Even James was talked into doing one of the more serious stunts himself, which involved jumping off the second floor railing. But he won't say he enjoyed it. "I'm afraid of heights," he tells us. "They lied to me, too. They said, 'If we go up 5 feet and drop you, that's all we need. We just need a little prove-it shot where it's you falling and not a stunt guy.' "
"The first take was like 20 feet or something like that, which was really high for me and I got a little nervous," he continues. " I said, 'All right, that's about as high as I can go.' And they went, 'Okay.' And we did another take and they raised me up higher. I know that because as I was falling, I remember thinking to myself, 'I should be hitting now, and I’m not yet.'"
Sony is hoping to have Paul Blart: Mall Cop in theaters around this year's Christmas Holiday.