National Security Review
Read an alternative review by Anthony Nield (Region 2 DVD)
Just when you thought the action genre had been completely taken over by Matrix-style martial arts, CGI goblins and Michael Bay camerawork, National Security reminds you what action movies used to be like fifteen years ago. Mismatched black and white partners, angry police captains, bleached-blond villains, shootouts in warehouses and police cars getting wrecked left, right and centre, this movie has it all. It might have been a nostalgic treat for those of us who grew up on such films and for kids whose experience of the eighties comes from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, if only it had been a bit more fun. Instead this is a PG-13 remake of 48 Hrs minus the thrills, the laughs and the chemistry.
White LAPD officer Hank Rafferty (Steve Zahn) loses his partner in a shootout and vows revenge on the gang responsible. Black wannabe cop Earl Montgomery (Martin Lawrence) has just been thrown out of the police academy. Both are at the end of their tether so when Hank catches Earl trying to break into his own car, tempers flare and the resulting shoving match, caught on video by a passer-by, looks like another Rodney King incident. Earl lies in court and Hank is thrown off the force and sent to jail for six months for assault. When Hank is released, the only job he can get is as a security guard and, still determined to catch his partner's killers, he follows a suspicious alarm call to find the same gang robbing another warehouse. To his shock, it's guarded by none other than Earl. The two guards have to try and overcome their animosity as they need each other to track down the criminals.
This is a professionally made film, directed by veteran Dennis Dugan, who has made funny films before (Happy Gilmore) and knows how to stage a car chase. Unfortunately he's lumbered with a bad script that tries to copy the successful buddy-cops formula from other films (which is forgivable) but makes a complete hash of it (which isn't). The central problem with National Security is that Earl and Hank aren't funny or sympathetic and you never believe in their relationship or particularly care about them. I've never been a big fan of Martin Lawrence but here he comes over as a total jerk. How are we supposed to feel any warmth towards a character who ruins an innocent man's life out of spite? Hank on the other hand seems like a slow-witted loser who allows life to grind him down. Steve Zahn is a very funny man and has been the best thing in a lot of films but he's playing straight man for Lawrence here and he has no opportunity to shine.
Much of the comedy consists of racial jokes, mainly from Martin Lawrence. I've got no problem with this kind of material, when it's funny and used to make a point, as in Blazing Saddles and Undercover Brother. It can be very liberating to laugh at the stupidity of racism on both sides and the excesses of black and white cultures. However Earl's constant whining about being oppressed by the white man is gratuitous, annoying and self-defeating because we never see him facing any oppression so he comes off as an opportunistic asshole playing the race card for his own benefit. For that matter, it doesn't make a lot of sense that an indignant black man who sees racism in every corner would fantasise about joining the LAPD.