Dir: Dennis Dugan. US. 2002. 90mins.
The interracial cop comedy has not looked too healthy of late, but National Security suggests there may still be life in the genre. Well designed for its star and executive producer Martin Lawrence, the reliably funny, action-spiked buddy caper has taken $35m after four weeks, after it opened to $16.8m on 2,729 screens, delivering fair returns for distributor Columbia and producers Outlaw and Intermedia, for who the project kicks off an overall production deal. In the international marketplace, where Columbia is also distributing, the comedy-action formula might produce better results than Lawrence's previous movies, most of which have under performed outside the US.
Former TV comedy writers Jay Scherick and David Ronn have updated the genre by creating something approaching Beverly Hills Cop for the post-Rodney King age. Lawrence's Earl Montgomery is a black LAPD cadet whose cocky attitude gets him thrown out of police academy. Now a lowly security guard, Earl has a run-in with Hank Rafferty (Steve Zahn from Out Of Sight), an uptight white cop whose partner has just been murdered on the job. Earl charges racial harassment and Hank gets kicked off the force. But when Hank, now a security guard himself, searches for his partner's killers, he crosses paths again with Earl and the two reluctantly link up to pursue the big-time criminal villains (Roberts and Feore).
Much of the comedy comes from the racial preconceptions that Earl and Hank impose on one another: the manic, motor-mouthed Earl too ready to see a white oppressor behind every police badge and the quietly seething Hank just can't take Earl's spontaneous, rule-busting style. There's nothing original in the comedy and film almost seems to deliberately shy away from pointed satire, preferring to take a less risky, more PC approach. But Scherick and Ronn produce some good one-liners and manage, by adapting an old physical comedy gag, to get laughs from something that looks like the King beating incident.
Director Dennis Dugan (known for Adam Sandler comedies Big Daddy and Happy Gilmore) does an efficient job staging the comedy and, with the help of cinematographer Oliver Wood (The Bourne Identity), provides some fresh and exciting car scenes.
After struggling to fit into his last two movie roles (Black Knight, What's The Worst That Could Happen'), Lawrence is right at home as the bombastic Earl. The role allows room for the kind of riffing Lawrence does as a stand-up and shows off his physical comedy talent. And while he can sometimes comes across as overly aggressive, he mostly stays the right side of obnoxiousness.
Zahn, meanwhile, makes the ideal foil, investing Angry White Male Hank with just enough sweetness to make him appealing and giving the film a comic talent to counter-balance Lawrence. Zahn's presence should serve to broaden the appeal of National Security, and also bodes well for the forthcoming Daddy Day Care, in which he will appear with Eddie Murphy.
Prod cos: Outlaw Productions, Intermedia, Firm Films
US dist: Columbia Pictures
Int'l dist: Columbia TriStar Film Distributors
Exec prods: Moritz Borman, Guy East, Nigel Sinclair, Martin Lawrence
Prods: Bobby Newmyer, Jeff Silver, Michael Green
Scr: Jay Scherick & David Ronn
Cinematography: Oliver Wood
Prod des: Larry Fulton
Ed: Debra Neil-Fisher
Music: Randy Edelman
Main cast: Martin Lawrence, Steve Zahn, Colm Feore, Bill Duke, Eric Roberts