Wednesday, January 22, 2003

National Security

Posted By on Wed, Jan 22, 2003 at 12:00 AM

Mediocre movie comedies are probably not listed as possible enemies of the state — yet. But if the Washington crew of Rumsfeld, Ridge and the rest ever widened their purview to include them, flicks like National Security could be detained for clichéd acts of humor in some kind of cinematic Camp X-Ray.

But National Security isn’t about that kind of national security. It’s about two LAPD cops, Earl Montgomery (Martin Lawrence) and Hank Rafferty (Steve Zahn), who, of course, can’t stand each other but bond as buddies to fight a typically exotic supervillain, Nash (Eric Roberts).

Montgomery is a brother with a racial chip on his shoulder and a man who would be supercop. He’s a one-man Police Academy flick. But when his arrogance literally blows up in his face, he’s given his walking papers and the bum’s rush before he’s even fitted for a uniform.

A situation between Montgomery, Rafferty and an “anti-Africanized attack bee” deteriorates into a parody of the Rodney King beating, and Rafferty forfeits his badge, gun and freedom for a maximum-security prison sentence. Both end up at the bottom of the barrel of the protection business with a motley crew of other wannabes and has-beens: They become minimum-wage security guards for the titular National Security company — and amateur crime fighters.

To be fair, as long as there’s a handful of laughs, Zahn’s touch of tear-jerking melodrama and men and cars vaulting, rolling and crashing through a hail of bullets, National Security can be entertaining — if that’s entertainment for you. It’s an ironic slapstick version of producer Joel Silver’s testosterone-fueled burlesque show, the salt-and-pepper action buddy flick: Think Lethal Weapon (1987), with doofus Montgomery and stooge Rafferty standing in as security guard versions of Murtaugh and Riggs.

The greatest threat to National Security and its greatest irony is Lawrence’s Montgomery. He’s playing with half a deck of race cards, each one a joker. Zahn’s Rafferty has more of a character arc and bears it like the white man’s burden — in fact, he steals the show.

While our compassionately conservative bandit of the last presidential election, civil liberties and now civil rights proclaims, “Affirmative action? We don’t need no stinkin’ affirmative action!” it seems a brother literally can’t buy a break. Even though he’s one of National Security’s producers, Lawrence ends up munching and mugging around a second-banana role.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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