African-American Earl Montgomery (Martin Lawrence) is dismissed from the LAPD cadet course for overzealous conduct and insubordination toward his training officer. Stopped by patrolman Hank Rafferty (Steve Zahn) on suspicion of car-stealing, Earl baits the white policeman and succeeds in having Hank dismissed from the force for harassment and sentenced to six months in prison. After Hank's release he becomes a security guard and discovers Earl is employed by the same company - National Security. Thrown together in a shootout with the same gang who killed Hank's partner, Earl and Hank decide to join forces and take the investigation into their own unauthorised hands. Hanks bitterness and Earl's refusal to admit his role in framing Hank makes the partnership appear doomed but the unlikely duo slowly win each other's respect as the hunt for the gang intensifies.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
As disposable as they come, National Security is a modestly entertaining re-hash of cop-buddy films of the 80s. Running Scared, 48 Hrs and just about every other mismatched duo outing have been recycled as loud-mouthed black dude Earl (Martin Lawrence) and square-head white guy Hank (Steve Zahn) hurl abuse at each other for half the film before mutual respect wins through and they catch the creeps. A couple of factors give this one a little more juice than you'd normally expect. The first is a racial discrimination theme that surprisingly offers real food for thought. After being kicked out of the LAPD training programme by what he perceives as a racist white hierarchy, Earl deliberately sets up white cop Hank on Rodney King-like brutality charges. He's unrepentant about destroying Hank's career and sending him to the slammer for 6 months. As he says to Hank "you lost your job, you went to prison unfairly and now you're earning $182 a week as a security guard - now you're a black man". Earl's sustained attack on how hard it is to be black in LA is far more absorbing than the familiar plot and I was left with the impression that this might have worked better as a serious drama. The other appealing element is excellent use of LA locations. Proving there are parts of the movie capital we haven't seen a thousand times, director Dennis Dugan stages an exciting car chase at the police compound on the outskirts of town and executes a cracking finale at a disused fort on the coast. Otherwise this is pretty standard stuff and you can tick off the cliches as you go. Every time cops order fast food they'll be called to an emergency, even when it's sunny in the background it will be raining at a police funeral and there's always a crooked detective involved with the bad guys. Lawrence, whose brand of humour I don't find very funny, works well enough with Zahn to make this acceptable popcorn entertainment and the sight of Eric Roberts as a bleach-blonde gunman is quite amusing. Clocking in at an efficient 90 minutes, National Security would probably have gone straight to video had it not been a Martin Lawrence vehicle and will make a good Friday night rental when it hits the shelves. As big screen fare it's got just enough to satisfy fans of slam-bang action but won't be a revelation for the unconverted.
Review by David Edwards:
National Security opens with a clever in-joke referencing Out of Sight, in which Steve Zahn also starred. This however is probably the high point in this action-packed but rather lacklustre buddy comedy. You’d think with a pairing of actors like Zahn and Martin Lawrence that the comedic sparks would really fly. Inexplicably however, the filmmakers decided to make Zahn – one of the funniest guys on the planet – the straight man to Lawrence’s clown. The result is a showcase of Lawrence’s sometimes dubious skills, but a distinct let-down for those expecting more. Throughout the film, Lawrence’s shtick revolves around his being black and feeling “oppressed” by society in general; and while this works on occasions, it can’t sustain a full-length feature. Indeed, Lawrence plays on the black/white issue to a much greater extent than far more successful comedies using the same “mismatched buddies” premise like 48 Hours or Lethal Weapon. Having said that, it’s difficult to actively dislike the film. While it’s crashingly predictable and the outcome never in doubt, director Dennis Dugan knows how to keep things flowing along, interspersing car chases, shoot-outs and prat falls with enough of a story to keep most engaged. Dugan keeps the whole thing quite mild though, and despite an arsenal of weapons being used and what seems like a hundred panes of glass being smashed, few people actually get hurt. Possibly the film’s best moment however (when our heroes catch up with the crooks on a bridge), is unfortunately given away by the advertising trailer, lessening the impact of the scene. Steve Zahn never really looks comfortable in the “straight” role as Hank, but he clearly outpoints Lawrence in the acting stakes. For his part, Lawrence is either flapping his gums or dodging bullets to the extent that any actual “acting” becomes rather superfluous. An almost unrecognisable Eric Roberts pops up as one of the bad guys, while Bill Duke has some nice moments as Lt Washington. National Security ends up being a mindlessly enjoyable popcorn movie – which is precisely what it sets out to be. The real disappointment here isn’t with what the film is, but with what it could have been.
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NATIONAL SECURITY (M)
CAST: Steve Zahn, Martin Lawrence, Colm Feore, Bill Duke, Eric Roberts, Timothy Busfield, Robinne Lee
PRODUCER: Michael Green, Robert F. Newmyer, Jeffrey Silver
DIRECTOR: Dennis Dugan
SCRIPT: Jay Scherick, David Ronn
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Oliver Wood
EDITOR: Patrick J. Don Vito, Debra Neil-Fisher
MUSIC: Randy Edelman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Larry Fulton
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 8, 2003