Review

National Security Review

By:
Jan 17, 2003 | 4:49am EST

Police academy reject Earl (Martin Lawrence) has locked his keys in his car and has his arm shoved through the driver side window's narrow opening when L.A.P.D. officer Hank (Steve Zahn) takes notice. But an otherwise routine traffic stop escalates out of control when a bumblebee flies into the picture. It turns out Earl is allergic to bees so a well-intentioned Hank swats at it with his nightstick. A bystander catches the whole thing on videotape but with the car obscuring the view it really looks like another Rodney King-esque police beating. The incident--one of those rare sidesplitting movie moments--sets off a chain of events for the two main characters: There's a hearing and fearing another riot on their hands the L.A.P.D. kicks Hank off the force and sentences him to prison for six months. Hank and Earl's paths cross again however when fate has the two partnered as security guards who uncover a smuggling operation led by L.A.P.D.'s not-so-finest. The rest of the plot isn't really that crucial. The story has its share of problems but it's simply there as a vehicle for Lawrence's shtick and for this purpose it works.

As a comedian Lawrence has always courted controversy and his edginess has made him the kind of entertainer that people either love or hate. Bill Cosby for example criticized Lawrence's 1990s sitcom Martin for reinforcing negative stereotypes of blacks while the NAACP honored him with its Image Award for the very same series. The PG-13 National Security features a milder Lawrence especially coming on the heels of his last feature the R-rated concert film Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat. But although Lawrence throws in a few raunchy zingers--don't be surprised if you catch yourself laughing at some slightly misogynistic jokes--he retains that likeable quality he has and his knack for physical comedy. His partner in security guard crime is played by Zahn (Joy Ride) whose easygoing style actually blends well with Lawrence's. And although his comedic flair is oftentimes overshadowed by Lawrence's charisma he seems content in the passenger seat. If this film has a saving grace it's definitely Lawrence and Zahn's onscreen antics.

Director Dennis Dugan (Saving Silverman) delivers a crude looking picture that is rough around the edges. The special effects are generic and a little cheesy. There are plenty of screeching car chases that end in fiery collisions and a fair share of clumsy fight sequences. Even the script penned by Jay Scherick and David Ronn (the duo responsible for that Serving Sara calamity) starts off feeling a bit too "jokey"; some of Lawrence's lines sound as though they are lifted straight from a standup routine. But once the Earl and Hank characters mix the script actually generates a decent amount of laughs that are less clotted with obvious setups and predictable punch lines. More importantly National Security stays clear of those touchy poignant moments that have ruined so many buddy flicks. Unfortunately like his last two comedies What's the Worst That Could Happen? and Black Knight this film is unlikely to turn much of a profit and Lawrence may have to wait on Bad Boys 2 for meatier box office receipts.

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