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Of all the detritus (Kangaroo Jack, Just Married, A Guy Thing) washing up on the shores of January, National Security showed the most promise. Its throwaway buddy cop story isn’t appealing, but the two leads, Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn, looked like match made in heaven.

Although Lawrence is as funny as ever and the script has moments of good comedic writing, National Security just isn’t good enough to be buoyed by these light moments.

BCC #244

Zahn and Lawrence get away with police brutality jokes
Zahn and Lawrence get away with police brutality jokes

National Security is the latest Buddy-Cop Comedy from the BCC assembly line. (Actually, Lawrence made this movie before, in 1999. It was called Blue Streak [BCC #203], featuring Luke Wilson as his partner.)

This time out, Lawrence (playing Earl) is a security guard who dreams of becoming a cop. Zahn (playing Hank) is a former LAPD officer convicted and kicked off the force for beating Earl, a la Rodney King. (That National Security gets away with police brutality jokes is remarkable.) After prison, Hank finds work at the National Security Company — the same place Earl works.

Hank’s partner was killed in the opening scene, and he’s still trying to solve the crime as sort of a hobby. He starts a gunfight in a soft drink warehouse (i.e., a product-placement warehouse), and Earl comes to his rescue. Afterwards, Earl sees the chance to do some “real” police work by teaming with Hank. In spite of their mutual dislike — Earl says Hank beat him, while Hank says Earl ruined his career — they set off in search of the killer.

Good Comedy Writing

The leaden plot and stock “action” sequences are almost offset by some very good comic writing. Screenwriters Jay Scherick and David Ronn co-wrote I Spy and Serving Sara and have worked in TV together since Spin City in 1996. Sometimes their jokes are more clever than you’d expect in a low-brow movie, like what’s being smuggled in the beer kegs.

Sometimes they’ll set up a joke that pays off much later, with interest. The best example that comes to mind is when Hank and Earl try to commandeer a car, but nobody will stop for them. Earl finally spots a choice patsy: an economy car with a “Student Driver” sign. Sure enough, they get the car, but the real payoff comes a scene later when, after some heated bickering about where to go next, the camera reveals that there are two steering wheels in the car.

Bad Screen Writing

But even with these bright moments, National Security isn’t very good The action scenes draw derisive laughter. When Lawrence’s dialogue turns to plot exposition, his shtick just sounds implausible and forced.

And opening a buddy cop comedy with a tragic murder, as National Security does, is terrible start. The later sad moment of Hank reminiscing about his partner completely kills the energy the film had built up over the last 60 minutes.

The film’s badness might be counterbalanced by the comedy if the comedy were denser. But it’s not, and National Security ends up being a disappointment.