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National Security

  National Security
Martin Lawrence searches for a joke.

© 2003, Columbia
All Rights Reserved

Wrapped up in the intense pursuit of trying to find his partner's killers, LAPD officer Hank (Steve Zahn, "Saving Silverman") has found himself out of a job, and busted down to working at a local security company. Earl (Martin Lawrence) is one of his co-workers, and he's also responsible for Hank losing his badge. Hank is determined to continue his murder investigation, so Hank and Earl reluctantly team up to catch the killers, leading them on chase after chase through Los Angeles, with the cops, bad guys, and their own distaste for each other nipping at their heels.

I think I've gone about as far as I can go in detailing the horrors of watching Martin Lawrence continue to ignore his comedic gifts in the pursuit of large paydays and top billing. "National Security" (IMDb listing) only adds more fuel to that fire, underscoring yet again just how careless Lawrence is at picking his projects. Coming after his stellar concert film, "Runteldat," which showcased a Lawrence who was fresh and funny, "National Security" brings back the old Lawrence, a seriously needy, humorless performer who's lost all tact in the pursuit of a laugh. In this new film, Lawrence trots out his usual grab bag of cold fish improvs, and dreadful, soul-flattening racial comedy. Imagining himself as a modern Richard Pryor, Lawrence's constant badgering of Caucasians (seemingly every other comment out of his mouth) reeks of a desperate man trying to get desperate laughs. It's made all the worse by the two scenes where Lawrence actually scores with a joke, and does so in a relaxed, unforced manner. The lackluster pairing with Steve Zahn (a severe irritant in his own right) doesn't matter, as the two strive for magic along the lines of Murphy and Nolte or Gibson and Glover, but seem more like oil and water.

Of course, a film like "National Security" doesn't rest entirely on Lawrence's shoulders. Director Dennis Dugan, a mild-mannered, diminutive 56 year-old former actor, is probably the last man on Earth who should direct an action comedy like this. He gives it the old college try, but his careful cribbing from the films of John Woo, John Landis, Richard Donner, and Walter Hill only reinforces the fact that a restraining order should've been enforced between Dugan and the camera. He's has some minor success with comedies like "Happy Gilmore" and "Beverly Hills Ninja," but that type of filmmaking doesn't prepare you for "Security's" mindless gunfire, explosions, car chases, and two leads that have no chemistry. Dugan piles on the shattering glass and endless shoot-outs just to keep the crowds happy, but never once was I convinced that he knew what he was doing. If they must make this type of comedy, the studio should've given it to a younger, MTV reject. At least then there would be an excuse for absurd moments such as a gun fight staged in a Coca-Cola factory, or takes where we actually see Lawrence pause mid-sentence to think of a joke.

As tired as the picture is, it does move extremely fast, toward a climax as improbable as almost every scene that's preceded it. I could swallow most of "National Security," had it been the least bit funny. But it isn't, and it won't offer any thrill or giggle for your buck.

Filmfodder Grade: D

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