review by Cynthia
Fuchs, 17 January 2003
a black man
Martin Lawrence appeared on Conan O'Brien to promote his new movie, National
Security, the interview focused on what you already know about
Martin Lawrence. His ears stick out, he wears designer clothes, and
he was in a coma three years ago. On the first point, Lawrence
underlined that it has never affected his appeal for the ladies. On
the last, he said he's stopped smoking weed, because "It's not
the time came to talk about National Security, they showed
the obligatory clip: Lawrence and co-star Steve Zahn appear on
screen, playing L.A. cops. When they mistakenly allow a car thief to
drive off in a rich lady's Jaguar, Lawrence unveils his "backup
plan": he shoots the car until it blows up. The fiery explosion
is vintage cop-buddy-action-comedy, all orange and big and exciting.
In the foreground, Lawrence and Zahn jump and contort. The studio
audience applauds on cue.
about all you need to know about National Security. And, for
that matter, Martin Lawrence's career to date. From his minute in Do
the Right Thing and long run on Martin to his be-sequeled
buddydom with Will Smith to his $20,000,000 paycheck for the
upcoming Blue Streak 2, Lawrence has made a fine living off
his terrifically mobile features. His basic joke is always the same:
he calls out racial injustice, even strikes an occasional aggressive
pose, but remains resolutely nonthreatening (for a white audience
who might otherwise take such scolding seriously), because his ears
stick out and his face goes comically paroxysmal.
allows for more of the same. Earl (Lawrence) is introduced trying to
pass a series of L.A. police academy tests. When his enthusiastic
displays of shooting, cart-wheeling, and driving go wrong and, most
importantly, enrage his instructor, Earl's escorted off the academy
campus by a couple of burly uniforms. Mad at the bum-rush, he throws
up his karate-choppy hands and makes faces: "I got skills, ya
that moment, Earl meets his white buddy-to-be. Hank (Zahn) has been
established previously as Earl's match -- angry, traumatized (by the
recent death of his partner [Timothy Busfield, on screen for about
two minutes]), and spastic-faced. Hank catches Earl trying to get
his keys out of his own car and mistakes him for a car thief. Their
verbal exchange escalates to awkward wrestling, just as a
"big-ass bumblebee" buzzes by. Being allergic, Earl
panics, and when Hank swats at the bee with his stick, a helpful
bystander videotapes them. The resulting "evidence"
resembles the Rodney King beating. Hank is kicked off the force and
sent to prison for six months. From now on, he holds a grudge
against Earl, indicated by his permanent scrunch-face.
story (relatively) short: both Hank and Earl end up working as
security guards, and both happen to be in the vicinity when Nash
(Eric Roberts in tacky blond hair), the smuggler who killed Hank's
partner, strikes again. In order that the feuding buddies-to-be
might join forces, Nash helpfully calls Earl a "monkey"
(as in, "Somebody shoot that monkey!"). Now that the
pursuit of justice is suitably "personal" for both
partners, the movie can stumble on through to its end, one
flamboyant car chase and bruising stunt after another.
(written by the same team who brought you the woeful I Spy,
Jay Scherick and David Ronn) endeavors to complicate the standard
black-white buddy dynamic, or at least to draw attention to its
conventions and presumptions. They exchange witty dialogue (Hank:
"Do you know how to hotwire a car?" Earl: "Why?
Because I'm black?"), bond as they spend seriously smelly time
on a garbage barge, and suffer repeated beat downs by the bad guys.
As always in interracial buddy films, such moments lead to eventual
mutual understanding, not to mention supposedly riotous physical
abuses. And, true to formula, they must decide which of their cop
superiors -- Detective McDuff (Colm Feore) or Lieutenant Washington
(Bill Duke) -- is the villain. Gee, do you think they'll figure it
out in time?
they're on the run from the cops as well as the smugglers, the
buddies find they only have one another as confidants. This leads to
one of those stock stakeout rooftop conversations where one partner
confesses his troubles and the other commiserates, while a plinky
guitar sounds in the background. Poor Hank. Not only has the
bumblebee encounter cost him his job and six months of his life,
he's also lost his girlfriend, Denise (Robinne Lee), who, because
she's black, can't accept that he's beaten a black man. Earl is
aghast at such suffering: "You know what you are Hank?" he
observes, by way of consolation. "You're a black man."
a good line, especially when you're looking at Steve Zahn's
exceedingly pale face, which is, for a minute, relaxing its scrunch
in recognition of this new brotherhood. That is, while it's a
ridiculous thing for Earl to say, it's also an effective ground for
these guys to bond -- to see themselves as alike, mirrored in their
equal oppression, depression, abandonment, and hopelessness. The
difference between them is this: Earl is used to being a black man,
and so he expects the world of hurt it entails. For Hank, it's a
novel and devastating experience, simultaneously exciting (buddy
Earl has finally accepted him) and horrifying (what if he has to
face these obstacles forever?). It's hard to be a black man,
especially when you're white.
PG-13 - Parents
Some material may
for children under 13.