“National Security” no buddy pic threat

National Security

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
January 17, 2003

2 stars

If you want to get philosophical about “National Security,” you could ask yourself this: Would you be able to forgive and perhaps even befriend the man who wrongly accused you of a crime that got you sent to prison?

No? How about if that man was Martin Lawrence? ‘Cause that’s what this action-comedy buddy pic is asking of the viewer.

Lawrence plays Earl, a wannabe cop who’s convinced everything that goes wrong in his life can be blamed on the fact that the white man is out to get him. When he fails to make the Los Angeles police force, he’s sure it’s not because he’s a renegade who causes thousands of dollars in damage by doing things his way, but because he’s black and the instructors are white. Earl honestly believes his incompetence has nothing to do with his lack of success.

So when Earl meets Hank Rafferty (Steve Zahn), a by-the-book police officer who’s suspicious Earl may be trying to steal a car (he isn’t), he accuses Hank of police brutality. Unfortunately for Hank, this is reinforced by a bystander’s videotape that appears to show Hank beating Earl when, in reality, he’s trying to shoo a bumblebee away from Earl, who’s deathly afraid of the creature.

You don’t need a Ph.D. to figure out how this film is going to progress, so I’m giving nothing away by revealing that Hank is found guilty of police brutality and locked away in prison. Never mind that a perfunctory medical exam would’ve corroborated Hank’s story that the swelling on Earl’s face was due to bee stings and not a beating. When he’s released from prison, he’s forced to take a job as a security officer at the same company where Earl is employed.

To enjoy this film is to suspend your belief in reality and not think too much about race relations in America. Glib, fast-talking Lawrence is likable even when he’s making wild accusations no one with a sound mind would buy. He’s not manipulative or malicious as much as he is misguided. But he also notes some truisms that are as funny to Hank as to the audience. Pointing out that Hank has been incarcerated, lost his job, was dumped by his girlfriend and now has to work as a security guard, he says, “You know what you are, Hank? You’re a black man.”

Dennis Dugan directs “National Security” like a music video, with fast cuts and lots of action. The movie holds your attention not because it’s good filmmaking but because it has some funny moments and the stars are likable.

There isn’t much room for two stars in this film. With his wild eyes and boisterous speech, Lawrence monopolizes the screen. Looking less boyish than usual, Zahn does what he can with the buddy role but isn’t given much to do besides look hapless and annoyed. Playing the straight man is wasted on the talented Zahn.

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