* (out of 5)
January 17, 2003
Martin Lawrence as EARL MONTGOMERY
Steve Zahn as HANK
Colm Feore as DETECTIVE MCDUFF
Eric Roberts as NASH
Bill Duke as LIEUTENANT WASHINGTON
Timothy Busfield as CHARLIE REED
Directed by: Dennis Dugan
BY KEVIN CARR
Ah, January. Not only are we depressed about there being no more Christmas presents, peace on Earth, or good will towards men. Not only do we all have to go on diets for stuffing our faces so bad over the past three months. Not only do we have to drag our sorry butts back to work for five days a week with no big holidays in the foreseeable future. But we also have to deal with the film line-ups of the new year.
The big event movies of the holidays – like “The Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” – are done until Memorial Day. And the studios have filtered all of their Oscar worthy films into wide release by now. All we’re left with is not much to look forward to on the big screen.
Sadly, “National Security” still manages to disappoint.
“National Security” follows Hank, a member of Los Angeles’s finest, as he stumbles onto a smuggling ring. While he and his partner Charlie (Timothy Busfield) try to apprehend the criminals, Charlie is shot and killed while the bad guys get away.
After burying Charlie, Hank suffers from internal rage and ends up picking a fight with Earl Montgomery (Martin Lawrence), a police academy drop-out who is trying to jimmy the lock on his car. While trying to apprehend Earl, Hank starts swatting at a bumblebee, and a man catches the incident on tape. Unfortunately for Hank, it appears as if he’s beating the tar out of Earl.
Los Angeles erupts in another Rodney King scandal that lands Hank in prison for six months and results in him losing his job with the LAPD. When he gets out, Hank can only get a job as a security officer. Still, this doesn’t deter him from trying to track down the smugglers that killed Charlie. During his search, he runs into Earl (who is also working for the same security company), and together they unravel the smuggling ring.
While there were plenty of absurdities on all sides of the Rodney King battle ten years ago, “National Security” doesn’t take advantage of all the potential comedy. The film panders to the O.J. crowd, playing off racial misconceptions and angst in a deliberately one-sided manner. Themes such as only white cops can be dirty are used throughout the film without apology. Even the presence of a white Bronco in one chase scene is more use in a trivia drinking game than as a joke.
Some of the scenes might be funny if they were presented as real humor. However, as gentle Hank (who is guilty of no racism at all) is dragged through the mud by every character in the film – including his “buddy” Earl – the film takes itself too seriously on race issues and doesn’t have the guts to poke fun at everyone.
The jokes are so tired and irritating in the film, I found myself anticipating the funny gags from the trailers because those were the only ones that were remotely humorous. In fact, I only laughed three times in the whole picture (which was the only thing that made the experience bearable). If you go, try to guess those scenes. Make a game out of it.
There is so much talent in this film that is wasted. Steve Zahn, who is one of the most brilliant underrated comedians of his time, isn’t used to his full potential. And he has virtually no chemistry with Martin Lawrence. It’s like bouncing a deflated basketball when the two go at it.
Martin Lawrence, who has a long history of good comedy with films like “Big Momma’s House” and “Blue Streak” is now a victim of his own arrogance. His character is a complete ass in all senses of the word, and he never becomes likable throughout. Director Dennis Dugan, who has both hits and misses in his resume, tries to handle Lawrence like he did Adam Sandler in “Big Daddy.” Too bad Lawrence can’t handle himself like Adam Sandler. (With that said, Adam Sandler’s earlier work really isn’t something to look up to anyway.)
Actually the funniest part in the film is the bleach blonde Eric Roberts as the villain Nash. Not that they meant for him to be funny. But his ridiculous surfer hairstyle makes me think he is channeling Christopher Walken’s Nazi-bred Bond bad guy in “A View To A Kill.”