National Security Review
is a comedy thriller starring Steve Zahn and Martin Lawrence. Following the death of his partner, police officer Zahn is arrested after it is decided he has conducted a racial attack again police academy reject Lawrence. Following a six month stint in jail, Zahn joins national security and uses this job to track down his partner’s killer. Unsurprisingly, Lawrence has also joined said security force, and following some initial disagreements, the two team up. Finding it necessary to sustain a running time of a little under an hour and a half, the writers have also added a touch of police corruption for good measure.
Given the starring leads, the filmmakers have decided to emphasise the comedy aspects, creating a situation where the thriller element becomes rudimentary at best. As well as the ever-popular corruption gambit, the writers also offer an atomic alloy macguffin, yet neither seems in any way essential. Rather, they simply become an excuse for a succession of car chases, car smashes and slow-motion gun battles, all shot in a flat, uninventive manner. Of course, this wouldn’t prove that great a problem if the comic element worked, yet sadly this is equally lacking, if not more so.
The initial frustrations are caused by the way National Security wastes its two stars. Steve Zahn has proved himself an able comic talent in both supporting (Out of Sight) and starring roles (Happy, Texas). Martin Lawrence’s career, meanwhile, has encompassed some astute stand-up, a small role in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and a likable starring role in Blue Streak. Despite a number of recent missteps, Lawrence has also been adept when sharing the lead; with Will Smith in Bad Boys, and with Eddie Murphy in Life. Even Dennis Dugan, despite the cinematic crime that was Problem Child (although even this provided Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear remake with its most memorable scene), was responsible for Adam Sandler’s best work to date, Happy Gilmore. However, despite squandering this promise, National Security’s most hateful aspect is its political incorrectness.
Bad taste comedy is nothing new, encompassing as it does Monty Python’s Life of Brian and Rodney Dangerfield’s oeuvre and the plethora of more recent releases that have allowed it qualify as a fully fledged sub-genre (and even produced one genuine classic in the shape of the Farrelly brothers’ There’s Something About Mary). Yet National Security is in bad taste purely for its own sake, rather than for satirical or subversive means. The scene which first brings Steve Zahn’s and Martin Lawrence’s characters together in caught on video camera, effectively becoming a parody of the Rodney King beating. The parallel is unquestionably intentional, yet it exists solely to raise a laugh. Of course, the scene is likely to gain a response from its audience, though one of hilarity is unlikely. Instead a questioning of the filmmakers’ dubious motives is the more likely result.
What’s more, National Security doesn’t stop here in being so damned offensive. Martin Lawrence’s character is forever spouting his skewed views on race to whoever will listen, most notably his take on interracial romance (it’s okay for a black man to go with a white woman, but not the other way around) that proved to be such a sore point with critics during its theatrical run. Yet given that the filmmaking is so hackneyed, and Lawrence’s character is so one-dimensionally obnoxious, no context is provided for these outbursts and they can only be taken at face value. As said, Lawrence was a fine racial commentator during his days as a stand-up, making this level of humour all the more shocking. Despite an oeuvre that has recently seen the entries of Black Knight and What’s the Worse That Can Happen?, the comedian has succeeded in topping both these efforts and created his worst film to date. Indeed, it must surely be unlikely that another film could sink this low.
Picture and Sound
Given that the film is less than a year old, it is unsurprising that both the picture and sound are flawless. Director Dennis Dugan favours brightly lit films, and National Security proves to be no exception. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer does full justice to his choice of colours, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is equally fine.
The main extra is a commentary by director Dennis Dugan. Sadly, Dugan is a slow speaker and whilst he speaks constantly throughout, proves to be a touch boring. Most damagingly though is the fact that he brings up the Rodney King beatings, yet offers little explanation for the inclusion of the film’s similar event. Instead he discusses the problems with CGI and paddling boats!
The disc also features three alternative scenes. No commentary is provided for these, though each is referenced in Dennis Dugan’s talk over the main feature. The first offers a comparison between the shooting script, Martin Lawrence’s improvisations and the final cut; the second is a simple overhead shot which wasn’t used during one of the shoot-out scenes; and the third extends the ending by just over two minutes. None of the scenes are essential, though it’s welcome that the disc’s makers have chosen to supplement Dugan’s commentary.
Also present are a music video, ‘N.S.E.W.’ by Disturbing the Peace featuring Shawnna, I-20, Tity-Boi and Lil Fate, which is your typical big budget hip-hop fare, though does feature a pointless cameo from Anthony Anderson (Kangaroo Jack, Romeo Must Die), plus the theatrical trailer.
(Subtitles are provided for both the deleted scenes and the commentary.)
Whilst given a flawless presentation and some half-decent extras, nothing can hide the fact that National Security is a truly dislikeable film, and one that deserves to be swiftly forgotten.