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Review by Dustin Putman
1 star out of 4
"National Security" is living proof why January is often called a
movie graveyard--the month where a studio's weakest movies are unceremoniously
dumped for a lack of either commercial viability or quality. Directed
by Dennis Dugan (2001's "Saving Silverman"), "National Security" may
at first glance look like nothing more than another harmless formula
buddy action-comedy, but it isn't. Within the first ten minutes, it
becomes readily apparent that it has a non-too-subtle racist agenda
that is thoroughly unfunny and repellent.
First, the disposable plot. Earl (Steve Zahn) is a cop mourning the
untimely death of his partner, who was shot in the line of duty. Hank
(Martin Lawrence) is a would-be LAPD recruit kicked off the training
program because of his antisocial behavior. When Earl mistakenly thinks
that Hank is trying to break into a car and threatens to arrest him,
a scuffle ensues. Unfortunately, from the bad angle that the incident
was caught on camera, it looks as if Earl was beating Hank up, when
in actuality he was only trying to swat a bumblebee that had begun
to attack the allergic Hank. Taking advantage of the racially charged
incident, Hank insists he was, indeed, beat up, leading to Earl's
revoked police badge and a six-month jail sentence.
Once Earl is released, he promptly gets a job as a security guard
in hopes of getting his life straightened out. What he doesn't realize
is that Hank has also gotten a job from the same employer. When a
smuggling ring secretly working in the area is detected, Earl and
Hank become unlikely partners in trying to catch the criminals.
This premise, while worn-out and mostly uninteresting, would have
been all well and good on its own. Instead, the screenwriting team
who brought the unsuspecting public 2002's "I Spy," Jay Scherick and
David Ronn, with generous help from Martin Lawrence's ad-libbing,
have joined forces to make a sickening 90-minute diatribe against
white people. Lawrence (2000's "Big Momma's House") can be funny under
the right circumstances, but here he is merely offensive, with nearly
every line he utters exposing his narrow-minded racism.
Making a statement about race relations can be smartly used as the
source of comedy (2002's "Undercover Brother" being a prime recent
example), but there is no point behind it and no statement to be made
here. Hank is such a crass, meanspirited, lying idiot that it comes
as laughable that the viewer is supposed to root for him. Tellingly,
as he hung from a seaside cliff in the climax, the only thing running
through my mind was that the world would be better off if he fell
to his death. I doubt this was the intention of the filmmakers, but
their carelessness in bringing this morally repugnant character to
the screen has managed just that.
The only actor who escapes with most of their dignity is Steve Zahn
(2001's "Joy Ride"), as the put-upon Earl. While Zahn has been offered
nothing witty to say in the screenplay, he still has created a sympathetic
character. We, as the viewers, feel sorry for him when he unjustly
loses his job and girlfriend, and then feel even more sorry for him
when he is forced to put up with Hank, who is the apathetic source of his problems.
"National Security" isn't just a poor man's version of "48 Hours"
or "Rush Hour," but an unbearable experience that fails to generate
a single solid laugh throughout. The sporadic action setpieces are
more tolerable, but strictly of the "been-there-done-that" variety.
More than anything, though, "National Security" is repulsive in its
misguided double standards. Had the roles been reversed, and the white
Earl been the racist one, you can bet people would riot the theaters.
Since it is the African American Hank, however, who has something
against Caucasians, it is widely accepted as just a silly comedy.
"National Security" is one, big, hypocritical "fuck you" to everyone.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman