National Security

(Dennis Dugan, USA, 2003)


Even the trashiest comedy has to possess a little bit of charm – some quirk, some sensibility, some piece of behaviour that is loveable. Between National Security, a vehicle for Martin Lawrence, and the Australian shocker Horseplay (2003), it seems that charm has fled contemporary comedy.

National Security ineptly revisits the territory of the 48 Hours movies (1982, 1990) starring Eddie Murphy. Earl (Lawrence) and Hank (Steve Zahn) are both bounced out of the police force and into the lowly sector of security. They make a quarrelsome couple, with Hank's short-fuse anger fanned by Earl's constant whining about racist attitudes.

"Do you believe the crap that comes out of your mouth?" asks Hank after yet another of his partner's diatribes about the "subjugation of the black people". "I don't know," replies Earl thoughtfully, "until I've finished saying it." And that is what passes for witty dialogue in this dire film.

Almost as an afterthought, director Dennis Dugan (Problem Child, 1990) wheels in the machinery of an action-thriller plot. This involves familiar figures from crime cinema, like Bill Duke and Eric Roberts, standing around and looking tough. The obligatory chases and explosions are listless.

National Security's attempts to be topical and political make Fat Pizza (2003) look like Bertolt Brecht. Clumsy gags about police violence – an issue the film never takes seriously – are overwhelmed by endless scenes of Lawrence showing off his supposed powers of seduction before every woman he meets. As for Zahn, this film represents the nadir of his eccentric career.

MORE Dugan: Evil Woman

© Adrian Martin May 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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