go, boy!" Martin Lawrence's signature punchline is all about survival.
Typically delivered with exuberance and not a little self-satisfaction, the line
reflects his thrill at getting over. It reflects his fans' thrill as well:
they're happy to see their boy survive and, even better, succeed. Kooky and
canny, adorable and rude, always trying so hard to get over, Martin Lawrence
inspires much love.
it was a little unnerving to hear -- just a week before Lawrence's latest major
studio release, Blue Streak, was set to open -- that he had collapsed
into a coma while jogging in LA during a monster heat wave. At first glance, the
episode seemed another instance of Lawrence's infamous lack of moderation (and
was reported as such on tv tabloid shows): it was another stupid move by
Lawrence, who was picked up last year by LA cops, while carrying drugs and a
gun. At the same time, though, the collapse confirmed exactly the
characteristics that make Lawrence so popular: he's demented, dedicated, eager
to please, even cocky. Put another way, as I heard several times during a
screening of Blue Streak, "That nigga's crazy!."
Martin Lawrence's fans appreciate his mania. And he works hard to deliver it to
them, in a package that repays their faith in him. (The day after he was out of
the hospital, Lawrence was on tv and radio talk shows to promote the film.) He's
been refining the "Martin" character for years, in his stand-up
routines, films (especially A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Bad
Boys, Nothing to Lose, and Life) and five years on the sitcom Martin.
It's a clever concept, this character, defined by contradictions that can appeal
to most anybody. He's part Lucille Ball and part Eddy Murphy, slapsticky and
sly, audacious and naive, generous and self-absorbed. He might act like an
asshole but most of the time, he means well.
be sure, Lawrence has developed the character in response to a particular
context. Martin is a black man trying to survive in a screwed-up,
white-dominated world. Women perplex him, sports excite him, his friends inspire
and alarm him. That he never quite figures out the system, or his place in it,
makes the joke ongoing. Martin feels frustrated and rebellious, he looks goofy
with those big ears that he likes to ridicule. Perhaps because he seems like
regular people -- not especially brilliant or glamorous or hooked up -- he's
become the kind of celebrity who's adored despite and for his extreme behavior.
Tisha Campbell, his longtime Martin co-star, left the show and then sued
for sexual harassment on the set, Lawrence's audience was willing to forgive him
and/or blame her. The character prepared the way for this response: Martin was
and is a screw-up Whatever his public troubles, people seem able to excuse his
"bad judgments" and laud his notorious nerve and insanity. He parties
hard, he acts stupid, but he's never done anything so nutty as to give a
transvestite prostitute a ride home.
that the series is canceled and the lawsuit is mostly forgotten, Lawrence's
movie career seems poised to take off. However, it's not likely to do that with
the retread cop movie Blue Streak. As retreads go, this one isn't
terrible, but it is obvious and predictable. The screenplay is attributed to the
team of Michael Berry & John Blumenthal and then to Steve Carpenter (such
serial credits rarely bode well) and it situates Lawrence right in the middle of
Eddie Murphy's parts in his 80s-heyday films, Beverly Hills Cop and 48
Miles Logan, Lawrence plays a jewel thief pretending to be a cop. He goes at it
with a maniacal energy, as he goes at most things. He does what he does best: he
mugs, cavorts, and incites mayhem, while the white guys (and there are lots of
them at the cop station) look on in disbelief and awe. They want to give him
commendations. They think he's a brilliant police strategist, but really, he's
just deploying those skills that seem second nature to black comedians in
movies: he schemes, steals shit, and talks real fast.
by Les Mayfield (Encino Man and Flubber), Blue Streak is
slack when it comes to coherence and character development. The awkward set up
is this: during a heist, Miles is betrayed by one of his partners, Deacon (Peter
Greene, sinister as ever) and busted by the cops. Before he's arrested, Miles
hides the whopping big diamond he's just stolen in a heating vent in an
unfinished building. Two years later, Miles gets out of jail and discovers that
the unfinished building has become an LAPD station. He does the logical thing of
course, what any black man would do in such a situation: he poses as an LA
he finds his way inside, Miles has to contend with a
technologically-sophisticated squad room full of white detectives who think he's
the shit. They're awed by his insights into burglary and his blatant distaste
for both feds and crooks: he sasses the former and slams the heads of the latter
into walls during interrogations. He's apparently absorbed these definitively
cool-cop techniques from his own encounters with them. Or maybe he's seen the
same Eddie Murphy movies the rest of us have seen (at one point he literally
hangs off a van's back door as it speeds down the highway, just like Axel
Foley). Miles' most supportive colleagues (played by Luke Wilson and the
splendid William Forsythe) take up where Judge Reinhold and Nick Nolte (Murphy's
partners) left off: sometimes they try to help with arrests, but mostly they
just stay out of his way and marvel at his mastery of all situations.
is caught between a rock and a hard place here: while he knows how to be mean
and violent because he's a black urban male criminal, he's most mean and violent
when acting like a cop (because the LAPD is corrupt by definition). Egged on by
his new buddies, Miles assaults criminals with precise, ferocious violence (all
in good fun, of course). Because he's surrounded by foils -- the dumb cops, the
fiendish Deacon, and his comically cowardly homeboy Tulley (Dave Chappelle) --
Miles looks relatively sympathetic even when he's brutalizing someone.
hitch is that the most extensive violence -- and the most overtly comic violence
-- is carried out against Tulley. This means that as the white cops look on --
from across an alley, from behind the interrogation room two-way mirror -- Miles
hits, kicks, and grinds his friend into silence about his secret, real identity.
A black woman DA observes that this battering is illegal, but she's dismissed by
the men as girly and naive. Ha ha.
The film is built on such generic thoughtlessness. Miles is lovable because he's violent in creative ways, not because he's figured a way out of stereotypes (of cops or criminals). He's honorable because everyone around him is less so. And he's funny and entertaining because -- aside from Chappelle -- there's not a soul on screen who can keep up with him. But honestly, lovers of Martinness are fine with this. They don't go to a Martin Lawrence movie to see him develop or be righteous. They're not looking for him to stretch or mutate. They want to see him make faces and whine, mess with authorities, act the fool, and prevail when all odds are against him. They love him for surviving.