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"NATIONAL SECURITY"
(2003) (Martin Lawrence, Steve Zahn) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy/Action: Two security guards end up unwillingly joining forces to find and bring down some criminal types who are responsible for the death of one's partner.
PLOT:
Hank Rafferty (STEVE ZAHN) is a cop whose partner, Charlie Reed (TIMOTHY BUSFIELD), has just been killed in the line of duty by Nash (ERIC ROBERTS) and his band of warehouse thieves. Hank wants to work the homicide case, but his bosses, Detective Frank McDuff (COLM FEORE) and Lieutenant Washington (BILL DUKE), won't let him.

Meanwhile, Earl Montgomery (MARTIN LAWRENCE) is a cop wannabe whose unorthodox style has just gotten him thrown out of the LAPD academy. The two meet when Hank spots him and believes he's breaking into a car. As Earl angrily tries to explain that the car is his and Hank gets more irritated with him, a large bumblebee enters the picture. Earl freaks out since he's highly allergic and Hank tries to hit it with his baton.

As captured from a distance on videotape, however, the partially obscured shot makes it look like Hank's using police brutality on Earl. As a result and not wanting any increasing protests, McDuff and Washington suspend Hank, resulting in his girlfriend, Denise (ROBINNE LEE), dumping him. It all comes to a head when Hank is convicted of the crime and sent to prison.

Six months later, Hank is released and gets a job as a security guard. Working after hours as his own detective, he stumbles across Nash and his goons in another break-in and sets out to stop them. Since they're robbing the place that Earl, also a security guard, is supposed to be protecting, the two men unwillingly form an unlikely alliance. With the confrontational sparks flying between them, they then set out to find and capture Nash and the others.

OUR TAKE: 2.5 out of 10
As the old saying goes, "Some things never go out of style." For a variety of reasons - both justified and inexplicable - others thankfully do. Years later, we ponder what made us dress the way we did, listen to certain types of music, or buy certain products.

The same holds true for movies. Some genres or sub-genres get hot for a while and that's all people seemingly want to see (and thus all the studios produce). For instance, back in the 1980s, the rage was all of those big-budget action comedies. You know, the ones that featured extravagant car chases and stunts (with lots of blasting through walls and launching into the air like gymnasts) and massive gun battles (similarly shot in glorious slow-mo to capture all of the mayhem and work of the special effects squib masters).

There were also the mismatched buddy pairings (often of the black and white variety with one being serious and the other an occasional clown) and the big, climatic fight scene where the hero fought the cartoonish, one-dimensional villain with blows and punches that would kill an adult elephant, let alone a mere, mortal man.

For the most part, those films petered out at the end of that decade and during the early '90s, with nary a tear from viewers or critics who saw enough of that foolish mayhem for a lifetime. Perhaps believing that today's young viewers can't grasp the full visceral impact of such offerings on home video, screenwriters Jay Scherick & David Ronn ("I Spy," "Serving Sara") and director Dennis Dugan ("Saving Silverman," "Big Daddy") have decided to resurrect the genre with "National Security."

An action-comedy that easily could have been lifted from the decade that brought us big hair, Michael Jackson and "Miami Vice," the film is loud, busy and poorly made. All of which means it will probably play well to the loyal fan base that follows films starring Martin Lawrence ("Black Knight," "What's the Worst That Could Happen?").

A limited if sporadically funny comedic actor, Lawrence plays the same sort of character he's done countless time before. Namely, that's a loud-mouthed class clown type who's good - in a relative manner -- with the one-liners, the physical comedy, action and, of course, the ladies.

Just as the film could have appeared back in the days of Ronald Reagan, one easily could have transplanted most any of the actor's previous characters into this effort with no discernable difference. I suppose that's good or at least satisfactory for his fans, but most everyone else will likely tire of the familiar and predictable antics.

Playing opposite him in the constantly irritated, white straight man role is Steve Zahn ("Riding in Cars With Boys," "Joy Ride"). While I've often found the actor and the characters he plays to be amusing, here he's limited to a constant grimace and the look that so much pressure is building in his face that his head is going to explode at any moment.

The mismatched buddy chemistry between the two actors and their characters never hits the right or necessary marks, which also holds true for most of the attempts at comedy. Although a few will elicit laughs from those not in Lawrence's fan base (most notably a riff on police brutality caught on home video), most of the material (including Lawrence's character repeatedly pulling the race card to lead any complaints) falls flat.

That's also true of the copious action, all of which comes off as a pale imitation of previously seen material. If there's any true indicator of what's wrong with the onscreen mayhem, it's a quote from Dugan. In the official press kit he states, "I had once seen walls and walls of Coca-Cola cans and thought, wouldn't it be cool to see them blow up with machine gun fire?"

While that might be true (especially to those who favor Pepsi), it doesn't necessarily translate into what most viewers would consider fun or funny moments on the screen. However, it does provide for some incredibly overwhelming and blatant product placement.

As far as the supporting performances are concerned, the likes of Colm Feore ("Chicago," "The Sum of All Fears"), Bill Duke ("Exit Wounds," "Never Again"), Robinne Lee ("Hav Plenty") and Eric Roberts ("The Cable Guy," "Runaway Train") can't do anything with their roles. That's particularly true for Roberts who embodies such a flat, nondescript and uninteresting villain that he's practically nonexistent.

With zero surprises, gaping plot holes and the feel that everything's been retrofitted, this is a boring and unnecessary throwback to the big and boisterous action comedies from the '80s. Simply put, if you enjoy Lawrence's standard antics and miss or can't wait to see slow motion footage of bullet-based mayhem and cars careening through the air (none of which apply to yours truly), this pic's for you. Otherwise, you'd probably be wise to skip it. "National Security" rates as a 2.5 out of 10.




Reviewed January 13, 2003 / Posted January 17, 2003


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