National Security

Movie Information

Genre: Action Comedy
Director: Dennis Dugan
Starring: Martin Lawrence, Steve Zahn, Bill Duke, Eric Roberts, Colm Feore
Rated: PG-13

Martin Lawrence has to be the singularly most untalented, most obnoxious, most misogynistic and most racist comedian working in movies today. That’s a lot of mosts, but “most overpaid” can easily be added to the list. Lawrence was reportedly paid $20 million for starring in National Security. I can’t think why, since I’ve yet to see any Lawrence vehicle that justifies that kind of pay. I don’t just mean that the movies aren’t good (though they aren’t); his movies are also not exactly world-beaters at the box office.

National Security will probably open fairly strong — though the figures I’ve seen indicate that locally, at least, Lawrence has been clobbered by a 65-year-old Jack Nicholson and also marginally outdistanced by a kangaroo — but I can’t imagine the film having what Variety likes to call “legs.” It’s the sort of movie that a lot of people — mostly kids — see when it first comes out and then … it will make the quick move from big multiplex auditoriums to smaller theaters, where it will hang onto tepid business for maybe three or four weeks, and that’ll be it. What does this man do that he’s worth $20 million — especially when it’s unlikely the studio will make that $20 million back? I’m thinking “tax write-off,” but it still seems excessive.

However, I tried to go to National Security with an open mind. I’d already been subjected to A Guy Thing and I figured this couldn’t be that lame. Plus, I’d seen about five minutes of Kangaroo Jack — which guest reviewer Marci Miller opted to tackle as preferable to another Lawrence movie — and I knew National Security had to be at least less silly than a movie with a fantasy sequence involving a CGI kangaroo spouting hip hop. And, bad as Lawrence’s film is on just about any level you care to name, I was not wrong. However, while the film is more watchable than the funereally paced bathroom-a-thon that is A Guy Thing, it’s also so incredibly racist and stupid — offensively so — that it’s impossible to enjoy.

The plot has Lawrence as Earl Montgomery, a chip-on-his-shoulder police-academy washout (easy to see why; hard to see how he ever got into the academy in the first place) who gets his moment in the sun by bamboozling the police and a jury into convicting police officer Hank (Steve Zahn) for police brutality. It doesn’t matter that Hank is mostly trying to save Earl from a bee sting (something to which Earl is supposedly allergic), and it doesn’t matter that Earl is clearly just this side of being certifiably insane (and the police are well aware of it and should be more so, since his colorful expulsion from the police academy has to be common knowledge). It’s all supposed to be hysterically funny.

It’s also supposed to be funny that Hank loses his girlfriend (who is herself black) in the bargain, and that he becomes a death-threat target in prison. Obviously, there’s something wrong with my sense of humor, since I found none of this funny; I found it repellent. And it doesn’t get any better, either.

Later in the film, Earl announces he disapproves of interracial relationships, but he soon reveals that this disapproval only extends to white guys with black women. This is done with a perfectly straight face, suggesting that Lawrence doesn’t realize he’s playing into a negative stereotype. As things work out, Earl and Hank end up working for the same security company on the trail of the bad guys who killed Hank’s partner (Timothy Busfield, who doesn’t even make it to the opening credits). And, of course, they end up being buddies (despite the advertising claim that this is a “buddy picture without the buddies”) when they get to know and understand each other.

The whole thing is ludicrous, not in the least because Earl never realizes that he’s done anything to wrong Hank. On the action level, what can be said? It’s competent enough, but that almost goes without saying these days. There are only so many shoot-out and car-chase variations to go around — and they’ve all gone around lots of times. As usual, the bad guys can’t shoot. As usual, the good guys rarely or barely get hit. As usual, the good guys have guns that hold more bullets than were fired on Iwo Jima. As usual, cars fly through the air. And it all adds up to a huge “So What?”

The film scores some minor points for finding an unusual location for the big climax, and for having the wit to cast the ever-reliable Bill Duke as a police lieutenant. Duke is a good enough actor that he manages to make it seem that he actually believes at least 90 percent of the nonsense he’s forced to say. For some bizarre reason, Eric Roberts resurfaces from the world of exploitation cheapies for the thankless role of a cardboard villain with white hair (perhaps they were going for the Malcolm McDowell look). But whatever National Security’s marginal merits, the entire thing sinks under the weight of the Lawrence ego, and the idea that what he’s doing is funny.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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