National Security

A Film Review By The Mike

Rating:RATED PG-13 for Violence, Language, and Racial Issues
Starring: Martin Lawrence, Steve Zahn, Eric Roberts, Bill Duke, Colm Feore
Directed By:Dennis Dugan

Final Grade:

The past 20 years have brought Hollywood a new formula known as the “Interracial-Buddy Cop Comedy”. Since 48 Hrs. made the formula a hit in 1982, dozens of films have tried to make it work, and very few have succeeded in its footsteps (None have been as good). In the last few years the formula has been used poorly as usual (Showtime anyone?), but for some reason I went in to National Security expecting to not be disappointed.

As the film begins we are introduced to Hank (Steve Zahn), a cop, and his partner, who burst in on a heist in a security warehouse. Hank takes a wrong turn, takes another wrong turn, and is trapped watching his partner be gunned down in the line of duty. We’re supposed to feel sorry for him and the effect this has on him, but I must say that his stupid actions preceding the event make us wonder if he ever was a competent police officer in the first place.

Meanwhile, we meet Earl Montgomery (Martin Lawrence), a young and boisterous black man trying to make his way through police academy. In a silly action/comedy moment, we see his attempt to upstage his training leader result in his dismissal from the academy, and again are (supposedly) made to feel sorry for him.

After these introductions, we find Hank back on duty and distressed, while we find Earl trying to get into the car he has locked himself out of. As Hank drives by he assumes Earl is stealing the car, and the two characters’ paths cross for the first time.

The initial showdown between the two is totally unhumorous, and is a good indicator of how the rest of the movie will go. The race card is played, and played poorly, and soon we find that the incident has cost Hank more than it should have. I won’t go into details, because the joke is an original, albeit unfunny, one, but it results in Hank being out of a job and becoming an employ at the titular company, National Security.

A few nights onto the job Hank finds himself walking in on a situation that is (way too) similar to the one in which his partner was killed, a warehouse heist. While there, the warehouse’s security guard, which just happens to be (you guessed it) Earl, also stumbles upon the heist, and now our opposed forces have become united to stop the thieves who are (you guessed it) the same who killed Hank’s partner, and unravel the evil plan, whilst of course dealing with the tension that arises from their pairing.

Yes, it’s a plot that we’ve seen too many times. Director Dennis Dugan (Big Daddy, Happy Gilmore, Saving Silverman) fails in every attempt to make the action scenes exciting, and most of the jokes fall flat, thanks partially to a poor script.

The other reason the jokes fall flat is Mr. Lawrence himself. One must wonder why he was given 20 Million dollars to headline this film, a film that would have worked much better with another lower profile actor (Orlando Jones or Don Cheadle come to mind), or even a bigger name like Samuel L. Jackson at that price. Instead we get Lawrence, and while I loved his work in Bad Boys and Blue Streak, he at no point in this film comes off funny, and the chemistry he has with his fellow actors is nonexistent.

Steve Zahn is another story. One of the best kept secrets in Hollywood over the last five years, Zahn has made every minute of screentime he’s gotten worthwhile. Since breaking out with a small role in Steven Soderbergh’s wonderful Out of Sight, Zahn has taken a string of roles opposite bad actors (except for his role in the critically acclaimed sleeper Happy, Texas opposite William H. Macy). He’s made films like Saving Silverman watchable (with an assist from Jack Black, and just over a year ago carried the terrible twosome of Paul Walker and Leelee Sobieski through John Dahl’s thriller Joy Ride. In this case, he again provides the only thing worth watching, but unfortunately can’t get far with Lawrence stealing most of his oxygen. The rest of the cast (including Eric “I almost made it big, but then my sister Julia got really famous and it pissed me off” Roberts as the head bad dude) is not worth noting. In the end I had to ask myself, in the words Lawrence repeats throughout the film “What the problem is?”. What the problem is, Mr. Lawrence, is your tendency to overdo your role so that the movie becomes nothing more than you showing off your mouth.

National Security could have worked, and I give infinite props to Steve Zahn, hoping the role that will make him a star comes to him soon. Unfortunately, Martin Lawrence makes sure this isn’t going to be that role. It’s not a horrible film, and the 90 minute runtime passes quickly despite the lack of substance, but in the end, this film just didn’t have the chemistry it needed, and not even a matter of national security could reverse that.

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