Our review of National Security (Blu-Ray), published November 13th, 2008, is also available.
"Do you believe the crap that comes out of your mouth?"
With close to two dozen movies under his belt, Martin Lawrence is considered one of the top black actors in Hollywood. He's been in successful films, Bad Boys, Big Momma's House, and not-so-successful films, Life, What's the Worst that Could Happen? After taking a quick glance at his résumé, I was surprised by how many films I had seen, but I wasn't surprised to discover how many I disliked. For me, Lawrence is not a funny man. His routine, if that's what it is, just does not carry itself well onto the big screen. I don't find his persona appealing; on the contrary, I think it's highly annoying. When comparing his character in National Security to the characters that I watched recently in Friday After Next, I find Lawrence lacking and actually insulting. Even the pimp in Friday has more redeeming qualities than those portrayed by Lawrence in this film.
But does that make National Security a lost cause?
Facts of the Case
Officer Hank Rafferty (Steve Zahn, Daddy Day Care, Riding in Cars with Boys, Joy Ride) is on patrol with his partner Officer Reed (Timothy Busfield, Striking Distance, thirtysomething) when a call comes in about a security alarm going off on their beat. Just as they begin to head over to the warehouse, another call comes over canceling the alarm because it's just a "power glitch." On a hunch, the two cops head over anyway to discover that the warehouse is indeed being robbed. The two call for backup, make their way inside, split up to cover more territory, and soon find the robbers. A firefight ensues in which Reed is killed. The bad guys are able to get away, and there is only scant evidence to work with to find these cop killers.
Rafferty is only a patrolman but wants desperately to get on the case to find his partner's killer. He's a dedicated and loyal officer, but he's forbidden from going beyond the scope of his duties. That will be his downfall, as he stumbles across Earl Montgomery (Lawrence), a reject from the Police Academy. During a routine patrol, Rafferty sees what looks like Montgomery trying to break into a car. It so happens that it is Montgomery's car, and he's accidentally locked his keys inside. Before Rafferty can assess the situation, Montgomery goes off on him, believing he's been profiled. In the ensuing heated conversation, a large bumblebee flies nearby. Montgomery is extremely allergic and begins to panic, falling to the ground. Rafferty, trying to be helpful, swats at the bee with his nightstick. Hearing Montgomery's exaggerated shouts, a nearby citizen videotapes the encounter, which makes it appear that Rafferty is brutally attacking Montgomery.
Rafferty is brought up on charges of abuse of power and brutality. As the investigation progresses, it becomes evident that Rafferty is innocent and did not touch Montgomery. Unfortunately, Montgomery continues to purport that he was beaten, and, fearing another riot, charges are officially filed. Rafferty is found guilty and sent to jail for six months.
Upon his release, the only job Rafferty can get is as a rent-a-cop for National Security. He uses his free time to continue the stalled investigation into his partner's death. While listening to his police scanner, Rafferty overhears a canceled call due to a "power glitch." Recognizing the modus operandi, he goes to the business and finds the men he's looking for. But they are heavily armed and a major gunfight ensues. Fortunately for Rafferty, another National Security officer works there: Montgomery. The two cover each other and make it out alive. Although Rafferty wants nothing to do with the man who has ruined his life, Montgomery considers him his partner and will not leave him alone. Much to his chagrin, Rafferty finds himself working with Montgomery to solve the case. The two find themselves embroiled in a complex smuggling ring that may have ties back to the department and some dirty cops. Can the two work together? Can Rafferty solve the case? Will Montgomery clear Rafferty so he can get his life back?
If I'm not mistaken, National Security is supposed to be a comedy. While it's true I may have chuckled a few times, I can't call this film a comedy. On the whole, this movie just isn't all that funny, and in hindsight, the material itself isn't really suited for this genre. As I watched it, it occurred to me that this film would play more effectively as a drama. The situations of police brutality, murder, corrupt policemen, smuggling, and the like are not normally considered funny. If they had decided to take the issues more seriously, National Security could have been made into a better dramatic movie. By trying to make everything slapstick and funny, it comes across as tired and passé—another color-by-numbers anti-buddy film.
But, to answer my question from my opening statement, this movie is a lost cause and fails miserably because of Martin Lawrence. (Now, stay with me here as it may seem I'm not applying blame in the right area; I believe it'll all become clear in the end.) Quite simply, I loathed his character. Montgomery absolutely ruins Rafferty's life: he's lost his job, he's been sent to jail, he's lost his girlfriend, and now he's stuck in an insulting job. And the whole time, Montgomery refuses to tell the truth. He's given numerous opportunities to clear Rafferty's name, but he refuses. He'd rather have this man suffer instead of taking a little heat himself. Is that supposed to be funny? Am I supposed to laugh at this? While it's all done tongue-in-cheek with Montgomery continually spouting about "how the white man is out to get him," it's actually quite offensive. All Montgomery can do is make racially charged statements to deflect blame from himself. Is that funny? At no point was the fact that Montgomery is a black man a consideration in any action taken by any character in the film; yet, he is constantly laying into people, saying they're prejudiced. Now, I know it's just a character, but I could not find anything redeemable in him as a human being. If I were Rafferty, there's no way I could have spent any time with the man who refused to clear my name. I would probably end up beating him for real this time. So, why am I blaming this all on Lawrence? It's the character and not the man, you say? That would be correct except that Lawrence embodies Montgomery. Montgomery has that same "shtick" we've seen in many of Lawrence's other characters: he's constantly whining, complaining, annoying, and trying to be the center of attention. From Montgomery's first lines in the movie, there is no mistaking that the role had been tailored to Lawrence's "strengths." Hence, I believe Lawrence tweaked the part and it is all his fault. Lawrence is Montgomery.
End of tirade…almost.
When Rafferty is introduced as a National Security officer, it's a mildly amusing scene where it's made very clear that these guys are unarmed. They're given a flashlight, pepper spray, and a handful of quarters to call the police if things get out of hand. Not five minutes later, Rafferty and Montgomery are in the middle of a rather large gunfight. Okay, so where do these guys get their guns? Rafferty is an ex-cop, but he also went to jail, so should he really have one? Montgomery can buy one, but why would he be allowed to carry one? Further, these two run all over town getting into crashes, blowing things up, and shooting people (with amazing accuracy), all with impunity. Go figure! Talk about comedy!
As there aren't many funny scenes in the film, I was personally amused by what I did find funny. There's one scene I clearly remember from the trailers that absolutely made me cringe. It's when Rafferty tries to commandeer the car of an older black woman. She immediately slaps Rafferty and doesn't take his sass. I thought "what a terrible, clichéd scene that's going to be." Much to my surprise, it's actually the cutest scene in the movie.
The disc contains both an anamorphic widescreen and full screen transfer, which you choose from the play menu. The transfer itself is pleasing but nothing exceptional, with accurate, lush colors, solid blacks, nice sharpness, and no errors but for a touch of grain every now and then. On the audio side, the 5.1 Dolby Digital track carries the dialogue-intensive film along with crisp and clean vocals from the center, limited use of the surrounds, and an occasional splash of bass. Neither is anything special, but they carry the movie well.
There are a few supplements on this "Special Edition" disc, though it isn't all that special in reality. The biggest bonus feature on the disc is an audio commentary by director Dennis Dugan (Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy). I had never known that he was a director, so I learned something today. I learned a few more things during his commentary, as he shares a couple of cute stories and some mildly informative tidbits about production. Of course, I was not too impressed with his constant admiration of Lawrence. Nonetheless, I'm almost willing to say the director's track is better than the movie…almost. Next are two deleted scenes. The first is presented "differently" in that it opens with the actual text script of the scene; it then goes on to show an improvisation that Lawrence did. Would you be stunned to find out I didn't like it? The second scene is a complete waste, for it's a mere ten-second overhead shot, sans sound, of one tiny portion of a gunfight. Wow! Then there's an alternate ending that is rather silly. You can watch the music video for Disturbing tha Peace's "N.S.F.W.," but I wouldn't recommend that. Lastly, there are trailers for National Security, Bad Boys II, and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. By my calculations, this disc doesn't qualify as "special."
And what is the deal with Zahn's freaky mustache?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Martin Lawrence is one of the freshest and most original and vivacious comics around. He brings such energy and enthusiasm to his roles that his movies are instantly improved by his presence. With such an innate sense of timing, Lawrence can enhance a scene with his mad improvisational skills. National Security is a better film because of Lawrence. If not for his participation, this would have been another cookie-cutter film. But since he's here, this is a genuinely funny and virtuoso film that will keep you in stitches. But be prepared for more than laughs, as this film also has a hard dramatic edge to it that will make you appreciate the characters all the more.
If only Martin Lawrence wasn't in this film, I truly think National Security would have been better. Instead of being yet another dull and tired comedy, the film could have been rewritten to give it that dramatic tone that is dancing deceptively at its edges. So much of what transpires in this film is not really funny material, so it seems reasonable to make the script fit the inherent nature of the topic. But that's not what was done here, and as a result I cannot recommend this film. It's a bad comedy with an appalling lead actor. It's like nails on a chalkboard, and it's painful to watch. Do not rent or buy this film. Please. Do not encourage Martin Lawrence to make any more films. He's just not that good, funny, or deserving.
Guilty! Martin Lawrence is found guilty of being a grandstanding braggart. His approach to acting is noxious and needs to be curtailed. As such, the court hereby sentences Mr. Lawrence to twelve months of solitary confinement.
National Security is also found guilty of being an inferior comedy. It is hereby sentenced to be tossed into the Hollywood regurgitation pile in hopes that a proper drama can be culled from its words.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Director Dennis Dugan
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