Sony // 2003 // 88 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 13th, 2008
They only look like cops.
"Do you actually believe the crap that comes out of your mouth?"
Hank Rafferty (Steve Zahn, Rescue Dawn) is a good police officer. He follows the rules, does what he can to help others, and is fully committed to putting criminals behind bars. Things have been kind of rough for Rafferty lately, as his partner has just been killed. He wants to investigate the murder, but his superiors quickly shut him down. "You're not a detective," they say. "You just do your job, we'll find the killer." Frustrated and sad, Rafferty makes an attempt to move on with his life.
Earl Montgomery (Martin Lawrence, Bad Boys) is an aspiring police officer. He yearns to have a badge, a gun, and a noisy siren. Montgomery wants nothing more than to be a powerful man of action, and he is doing pretty well in the Police Academy. Unfortunately, his reckless behavior and disregard for the rules outweighs his skill in terms of getting the job done, so he is thrown out of the Academy. Frustrated and sad, Montgomery makes an attempt to move on with his life.
One day, Rafferty sees Montgomery attempting to get the keys out his car. Rafferty questions whether the car belongs to Montgomery. A confrontation slowly builds, and a remarkably contrived situation involving a bumblebee makes it look like Rafferty was assaulting Montgomery. Because he is a jerk, Montgomery decides to claim that he was indeed beaten up and abused. Rafferty is quickly convicted on assault charges, and is forced to spend six months in prison. When he is finally released, Rafferty's only career option is getting a job as a security guard. Unfortunately for him, Montgomery works at the very same company. The two hate each other initially, but are soon forced to work together to solve a crime.
Buddy cop movies and racially-charged humor have always gone hand in hand. In 1982's 48 Hours, it seemed reasonably fresh and funny. The idea of seeing Eddie Murphy taking on a bar full of rednecks was quite entertaining, and it worked terrifically. When Rush Hour was released in 1998, this sort of thing had grown a little stale, but it still made many viewers smile a little. By 2003, when it was employed in the Martin Lawrence vehicle National Security, it had simply become wearisome. This simplistic and rather aggravating film relies on old jokes and older plot devices, creating a movie that feels like the lukewarm leftovers of Lethal Weapon.
Let's start with the story. This film is the most irritating sort of comedy, the kind that relies on the stupidity of everyone involved. It is a prime example of what the great Roger Ebert calls an "idiot plot," because things can't progress unless everyone is acting like an idiot. The "beating" that starts the film is very difficult to swallow. Any lawyer with a modest amount of intelligence could have easily gotten Rafferty off the hook. There are so many obvious holes in Montgomery's story, and the footage that is shown frankly isn't terribly damning. It's quite obvious that Rafferty is never actually hitting Montgomery. Things just get worse from here. I don't want to spoil things for those who see the film, but suffice it to say that there isn't a single convincing major plot development in the entire movie.
The humor is another problem. Much of it relies on worn-out racial jokes. An example:
Rafferty: "Hey, do you know how to hotwire a vehicle?"
Montgomery: "What, are you just saying that because I'm black? Huh?"
Rafferty: "No, I just wanted to know. Can you do it or not?"
Montgomery: "Yeah, I can. But not because I'm black!"
You might think that the single moment I'm pointing out is inoffensive enough. So it is, when isolated and looked at on it's own. However, when this sort of thing is being repeated over the course of the entire movie, then it becomes obnoxious. Earl Montgomery is a grating character who views the entire world in terms of black and white. No matter what anyone does, Montgomery quickly tells us it was done because the person in question was white or black. When something contradicts his logic, he'll offer something like, "Why would a brother do that? He must have grown up in a white neighborhood." The biggest problem isn't that Montgomery behaves this way. People who behave this way do exist. The biggest problem is that the film actually confirms his loopy and stereotypical belief system. Montgomery claims that "the white man" is behind everything, and sure enough, a group of corrupt cops are comprised entirely of white males.
Another major problem is that this material simply isn't funny. A cop being wrongly incarcerated because it looked like he beat up a black man? I'm not laughing. Lawrence is, and we are expected to laugh with him. At every turn, he refuses to apologize for his actions, and never admits at any point that he wasn't actually beaten. He views the thing as a great big joke, and feels he has some sort of legal right to act like a jerk towards anyone who happens to be white. If Rafferty were a black man and Montgomery were a white man, this material would play as a nasty, racism-fueled drama. Switch the races, and suddenly it's supposed to be a goofy comedy?
It seems to me that Lawrence and Zahn are in two completely different movies. On the one hand, Lawrence is completely unhinged here. He goes crazy and does his thing in pretty much every scene, and is allowed to riff freely without any restriction from director Dennis Dugan. He is a self-serving actor here, trying to hog the screen at every opportunity. He is outshined at every turn by Zahn, who turns this should-be-simplistic straight man into a soulful and deeply sympathetic character. Zahn plays a man who goes down with a kind of heartbroken dignity, with occasional angry outbursts eventually giving way to broken resignation. His beloved girlfriend has broken up with him, his partner is dead, an entire city thinks he is a bigot, and he's just crushed. Zahn is a very skilled comedian, but here he seems to recognize that playing this character with truth and sincerity is the only way to preserve him. Meanwhile, trusty old character actors like Colm Feore (Changeling) and Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight) have nothing of interest to do.
The hi-def transfer is solid yet unremarkable. A little bit of grain can be found here and there, but facial detail is stellar and blacks are somewhat deep. The audio track is pretty aggressive, offering up lots of noisy action scenes and pounding song selections. It's a rowdy track, but it's better described as simply "loud" rather than "exciting." Extras are ported over from the previous DVD release. A commentary with Dugan is rather dull and self-congratulatory ("Isn't this funny? That's so great, right?"), while an alternate ending and deleted scenes are of little interest. A music video for "N.S.E.W." is offered, and isn't particularly good. A dull batch, I must say.
Martin Lawrence can be a funny guy, but his track record is questionable at best. This is yet another stinker on his resume, and should be avoided by all except his most devoted fans.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Alternate/Deleted Scenes
* Music Video