LOS ANGELES — Kevin James bumbles and stumbles to take down the bad guys, but his "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" had no trouble nabbing the top spot at the box office this weekend.
The PG-rated comedy, starring James as a portly shopping center security guard who tries to foil a bank heist, made $33.8 million in its first three days and is expected to reach $40 million over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
That far surpasses expectations, said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Sony, which released the movie.
"We had a lot of screenings as well as tracking that was good on it. We were hopeful we could do in the range of $25 million for four days and that would have been a terrific result for us. But now it looks like we're going to do $40 million for four days, and that is just, like, a 'wow' number," Bruer said Sunday. "It totally speaks to just how much audiences love Kevin James, No. 1, and how hard he worked to promote this film."
After proving his value as a sidekick to Will Smith in "Hitch" and Adam Sandler in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry," James shows here he can also be a reliable leading man, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office tracker Media by Numbers.
"In these tough, recession-laden times, you'd think people wouldn't want a movie that's based around a mall, but they totally do," Dergarabedian said. "Kevin James has that everyman quality. People relate to him."
Last week's No. 1 movie, "Gran Torino," dropped to second place but only by 25 percent. The Warner Bros. drama, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood as a bigot who becomes a reluctant neighborhood hero, made $22.2 million this weekend for a cumulative gross of $73.2 million.
Among other new releases, the Lionsgate horror flick "My Bloody Valentine 3-D" opened at the No. 3 spot with $21.9 million.