2003, PG-13, 90 min. Directed by Dennis Dugan. Starring Martin Lawrence, Steve Zahn, Robinne Lee, Timothy Busfield, Eric Roberts, Colm Feore, Bill Duke, Joe Flaherty, Jeffrey Ross.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 17, 2003
At this particular moment in American history it might seem a dubious proposition to release, of all things, a film comedy with the title National Security. But you at least have to admit that January 2003 should prove a less sensitive time than November 2001, the month that National Security was originally slated for debut. Although slotted into Columbia's schedule a few more times during the last 15 months, the prevailing wisdom finally settled on the doldrums of January as the proper time to unleash this dog. That may be all you need to know about National Security apart from this one additional factoid: With this film, the first he made after Black Knight, Martin Lawrence reportedly joined the $20-million club, the elite ranks of Hollywood's top-paid actors. In National Security, Lawrence delivers his nonstop mugging and Zahn provides decent foil as Lawrence's reluctant partner in crime-stopping, but the film nevertheless falls flatter than, well, a Hollywood comedy release in January. It's directed by Dennis Dugan with all the flair he failed to display in such previous ventures as Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, and Saving Silverman, and it was scripted by Jay Scherick and David Ronn, the same writing team who previously gave us the witless comedies Serving Sara and I Spy. Lawrence plays a security guard who works for a company named National Security. He had wanted to be a cop, but was kicked out of cadet training due to his inability to control his wacky impulses and his constant verbal trashing of white people, whom he half-jokingly points to as the cause of all mishap and ruin in the world. At the start of the movie, he accuses the cop played by Zahn of a racially motivated assault with a nightstick when a passerby's videotape of the incident appears to provide incriminating evidence. Then, faster than you can say Rodney King, Zahn is put on trial, sentenced by an all-black jury to six months in prison, serves his time, and is released. Of course, he now also becomes a security guard, but uses his time to track down the baddies who killed his former partner (the briefly seen Busfield). Things inevitably lead to the warehouse Lawrence is ineptly guarding, and, wouldn't you know it, these two have to work together to set things right. Their prickly banter continues throughout the movie, as scads of unbelievable events occur and a fairly incomprehensible smuggling plot (headed by a blond Eric Roberts) is revealed. In the final analysis though, the only real thing being smuggled in National Security is unwitting patrons' admission fees.