2003-01-23 / Arts & Entertainment

Just Another Racially-Mixed Buddy Flick

AP Entertainment Writer
By Christy LeMire

Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn co-star in “National Security.”            Nicola Goode©Columbia TristarMartin Lawrence and Steve Zahn co-star in “National Security.” Nicola Goode©Columbia Tristar

"National Security" is the best racially mismatched buddy flick hitting theaters this weekend, if only because ``Kangaroo Jack’’ manages to be an even more egregious assault on the senses.

While "Kangaroo Jack," starring Jerry O’Connell and Anthony Anderson, is about a black guy and a white guy who chase a marsupial though the Australian Outback after it steals $50,000 in mob money, "National Security," starring Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn, is about a black guy and a white guy who ... um ... does it really matter?

People don’t go see Martin Lawrence movies for the plot intricacies. They go for his wildly over-the-top physical shtick, and that faux-suave way he works the ladies. Lawrence is tolerable doing all this, and even sporadically funny, merely because he appears to be enjoying himself.

But this is the kind of movie Eddie Murphy wore into the ground, starting with the "Beverly Hills Cop," and "48 HRS." movies in the 1980s and continuing just last year with "I Spy" and "Showtime."

Come to think of it, Lawrence has already made this kind of movie several times himself; there was ``Blue Streak’’ in 1999 and ``Big Momma’s House’’ in 2000, plus ``Bad Boys’’ with Will Smith in 1995 and ``Life’’ with Murphy in 1999, which also had the hackneyed buddy dynamic.

For the record, though, ``National Security’’ is about a black guy and a white guy working as security guards who try to expose a plot involving corrupt cops and smuggled alloy.

Earl Montgomery (Lawrence) is a police academy reject who’s relegated to patrolling a warehouse full of soda. (This sets up what may be the most flagrant example of product placement ever, as Earl and a bunch of bad guys shoot at each in a giant room filled with cases of Coca-Cola and Sprite.)

Hank Rafferty (Zahn) is a Los Angeles police officer who’s kicked off the force after being wrongly accused of beating Earl, which is captured on amateur videotape and broadcast on the news, a la Rodney King.

After six months in prison, Hank ends up joining Earl as a security guard, but still tries to investigate the smugglers who killed his former partner in the line of duty.

He tries to tell his former superiors (Bill Duke and Colm Feore) that he’s onto something, but they don’t listen. And so he’s stuck with help from Earl, who’s eager for police action, even if it’s with a white partner.

The race jokes are incessant in the script from Jay Scherick and David Ronn, who also inflicted last year’s ``Serving Sara’’ and ``I Spy’’ upon the moviegoing public.

When Hank asks Earl whether he can pick a lock or hot-wire a car, naturally it’s because Earl is black. It’s not funny the first time, it’s not funny on what feels like the 100th time.

But subtlety isn’t exactly a strong suit for director Dennis Dugan, who previously offended us with ``Problem Child,’’ ``Beverly Hills Ninja,’’ ``Saving Silverman,’’ and not one but TWO Adam Sandler movies (``Happy Gilmore’’ and ``Big Daddy’’).

Dugan crams in every imaginable cop-movie cliche, from cars that burst through glass windows to slo-mo shootouts.

It’s so unoriginal, you’ll have forgotten about it long before you toss your jumbo-sized popcorn and drink combo in the trash can as you exit the theater.

"National Security" is rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality. Running time: 90 minutes.

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