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'National Security'

More ways to mismatch cops

Friday, January 17, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Earl Montgomery (Martin Lawrence) doesn't just play the race card. He plays the whole darn deck. When someone asks if he can hot-wire a car, he wants to know if that's because he is a black man. He also weighs in on picking locks, interracial dating and TV reception in the ghetto.


RATING: PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality.

STARRING: Martin Lawrence, Steve Zahn.

DIRECTOR: Dennis Dugan.


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So, when he has a run-in with a tightly wound LAPD officer named Hank Rafferty (Steve Zahn, in crewcut) and a bee -- Earl is highly allergic -- he turns it to his advantage. When a home video record of their encounter, making it appear Hank is beating Earl instead of swatting at the bee, goes public, Earl capitalizes on it.

Hank, still reeling from the murder of his partner in a sequence that opens the movie, loses his job, goes to prison and winds up working for the National Security agency, where the guards get all of two days of training. Hank ends up partnering with Earl, kicked out of the LAPD Academy and now a security guard himself, to find the men who killed his partner and have been pulling off a series of break-ins.

"National Security," an action comedy, follows the tried-and-true formula: Put two mismatched partners together, watch them bicker and battle and grudgingly grow to like and respect each other. And usually there's some life-saving act tossed in near the end.

Lawrence and Zahn work well together, but there's way too much sparring and too little genial collaborating. One of the best scenes is a quiet one when Zahn's character spells out all the travails he's suffered and Lawrence responds with a truly funny quip.

A couple of bits involving a driver's education car and pine-scented deodorizer are pretty good, too, but much of the humor is juvenile: A woman in her underwear is cuffed to a light fixture and forgotten; an inspection is made for a bullet wound to the behind; and an attempt to commandeer a car results in slaps and rebukes.

Eric Roberts, in platinum blond hair, leads the villains who clearly cannot shoot straight. Never has so much ammunition been expended with so little bloodshed and death -- not that I'm complaining, but it seems ridiculous after a while. The complicated motivation behind the burglaries is kissed off in a couple of sentences, but comedy trumps all else here.

It's not my kind of comedy but then again, I'm not a 12-year-old boy -- who won't get the joke about the TV show "Quincy," off the air for two decades, but might enjoy the chases, crashes and clashes. Not to mention the two dozen uses of mild profanity which have, sadly, become part of the formula today.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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