National Security Movie Review

Director Dennis Dugan, who cut his teeth on Adam Sandler's insincere feel-good flick "Big Daddy" before cranking out the most rank movie of 2001 ("Saving Silverman"), apparently spent last year attending an Action-Comedy 101 classes. But if he graduated, it was by the skin of his teeth.

His new film is "National Security," a bungled mess of a buddy picture starring screwball talent Steve Zahn ("Joy Ride") as an ex-cop security guard teamed with one-schtick Martin Lawrence, who plays a police academy reject that got Zahn kicked off the force and thrown in jail with false accusations of police brutality.

Such race-based humor (if you can call it that) is Dugan's crutch -- the movie consists mostly of Lawrence employing his hyperactive, increasingly embarrassing ghetto clown routine to drive Zahn to vein-popping frustration.

It's the kind of movie designed to amuse people who keep their own running narration from their seats (during a chase scene, the guy next to me at the sneak preview hollered "Hit the gas! Hit the gas!") and who laugh hardest at the jokes they know are coming. Sections of the preview audience absolutely erupted when Lawrence says he'd been pulled over for "DWB -- Driving While Black." You'd think they'd never head that 20-year-old term of irony before.

Catch-phrase-centric (Lawrence bellows "What the problem is?!?" half a dozen times), it's also the kind of movie in which there are flammable 55-gallon drums everywhere -- on a police training course, at an abandoned military fort -- so they can explode in slow-motion during the action scenes that are played completely straight, as if they were part of a Steven Seagal movie, not a Martin Lawrence comedy.

After being reduced to taking jobs as lowly security guards, Lawrence and Zahn spitefully team up when they discover a crooked-cop conspiracy to smuggle some kind of space-age alloy -- then link the hoodlums responsible (led, of course, by a bleach blonde henchman) to the laughably serious first-reel death of Zahn's partner.

Dugan and writers Jay Scherick and David Ronn (responsible for last year's equally asinine "Serving Sara") bring the comedy to a screeching halt for most of the action set pieces, in which the baddies call attention to themselves by firing machine guns in traffic during car chases that are reminiscent of the low-rent highway stunts from the ludicrous 1970's cop show "CHiPs." And they care so little about plot creativity that by 10 minutes into the movie, you'll be an hour ahead of the characters unless you've not only checked your brain at the door, but put it through a meat grinder besides.

Jam-packed with contrived conveniences, "National Security" provides unattended cop cars with keys in the ignition when Lawrence and Zahn need a getaway vehicle, and even has a brand new crane (again with the keys in the ignition) standing by at the aforementioned abandoned fort, just in case Zahn needs to rescue Lawrence from a high place during the climax.

The best that can be said for this less-than-elementary throwaway flick is that Zahn looks hilariously appropriate as a cop in his extreme flattop hairstyle and donut-duster mustache.

But while Lawrence and Zahn are clearly game for any gag and seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves, Dugan and the writers clearly couldn't care less about anything but overplaying the lamest chases, the most inept gun fights and the cheapest, most boorish laughs they can muster.


National Security Rating

" Unbearable "

Rating: PG-13, Opened: Friday, January 17, 2003


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