Director Dennis Dugan ("Happy Gilmore," "The Benchwarmers") doesn't cover any new ground in this L.A.-based buddy cop flick, which is probably more in the mold of "48 Hours" than anything else because it pairs a decent white cop with a screwball black quasi-partner who's more afoul of the law. But in the commentary track Dugan admits that all he cares about is making a movie that entertains people and takes their minds off their troubles for 88 minutes.
In that case, hold the planes and string up the banner: Mission Accomplished. And if all you're wanting to do is make a modest little entertainment, what better place to start than with Martin Lawrence, who, aside from an early appearance in Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" (1989) and some nice voiceover work in "Open Season" (2006), has yet to appear in a film that registers on the meter any higher than "okay." But at least "National Security," like his other cop picture, "Blue Streak" (1999), is better than "House Party" (1990). Or "Big Momma's House" (2000). Or "Black Night" (2001). Or any of those other super-sillious films of his that require a tranquilizer dart to get most people to sit through the whole thing.
Happily, that's not the case here. But writers Jay Scherick and David Ronn ("I Spy," "Norbit") flirt with a concept that's risky, at best. At the outset, we see a mostly serious cop segment in which good-guy, good-cop Hank Rafferty watches his partner get blown away in a warehouse heist that had inside job written all over it. That somber background sequence is matched by a silly one involving Earl Montgomery (Lawrence) at the L.A. Police Academy, whose racially sensitive attitude ("Why, because I'm BLACK?") and loose cannon style leaves the training facility in a fiery mess and gets his keesteer booted out the door. That serious thread and silly one don't exactly make for a natural weave, and there are some awkward moments as a result. But surprisingly you get to the point where you buy it--not as realism, mind you, but at least as a premise that's not so illogical that it makes you sit there and go "Huh?" for the rest of the movie.
Things really go in the crapper for poor Hank after he meets Earl, whom he sees reaching into a car in a nice neighborhood, trying to get the keys he left inside. "Can I help you?" he says. "Don't you mean, 'Are you trying to steal this car?'" Earl snaps. "Okay," nice-guy Hank says, "Are you trying to steal this car?" Then Earl's reaction and blatant disrespect for the law (though he's right-on about the racial profiling) rubs Hank the wrong way, especially since he's still smarting from the death of his partner. Before you know it, Hank has Earl in a choke hold, a bee flies by and, in the most ridiculous stretch of logic, the hyper-allergic Earl starts screaming so much that Hank tries to get the bee. Of course, it would have been better had he not been swinging his baton at it, because a family picnicking in the park gets the whole thing on tape, and it looks like just another white-cop/black man Rodney King-style beating. Next thing you know we're in a courtroom, and quick as you can quip about DWBs (Driving while black), Hank finds himself sentenced to six months in prison. And after a running gag or two, he's back on the streets and in uniform again--as a National Security guard, same as his nemesis.
As I said, there's nothing new here. Hank still listens to police calls on his scanner, hoping to get the guys who killed his partner, and Earl still cares more about booty than duty, into kinky stuff at his night job when he should have been making the rounds. Eventually these two come together, as do the two threads--the bee thing and the revenge thing. How they come together is the problem. The script would have to be super-funny to make up for the familiar plot and buddy cop conventions, or else the acting would have had to be so dead-on funny that it spelled redemption. But "National Security" never pushes the needle on the meter past "okay." As a result, the chase scenes, the shootouts, the contraband inside the requisite big wheeler, even the ultimate showdown with the villain (Eric Roberts) never makes us feel as if this film is something special. It's fun, but don't look for much more than what can fill a popcorn bowl.
The video quality is another story. In 1080p (AVC/MPEG-4 codec) "National Security" looks very good, with brilliant colors and a surface that's slick but not overprocessed. There's also the kind of detail and 3-dimensionality that we've come to expect in a Blu-ray, presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
The audio is just as good, with an English, French, or Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 driving the effects and ambient sounds that create an air of excitement. The bass is strong enough to be pulsing without vibrating too much, and the overall audio is fairly dynamic, full of energy and pop. Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 is offered as an additional audio option, with subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Arabic, and Dutch.
Dugan offers a modest and unassuming commentary track that begins strong but grows increasingly less interesting as the film progresses. He knows his audience, though, and rather than offering a serious take on how scenes and shots were accomplished or details about production, he'll often just talk about a joke or a setting--call it Commentary Lite. The only other bonus features are a handful of deleted/alternate scenes, including an alternate ending that really stinks, and a Disturbing Tha Peace music video ("N.S.E.W.").
If anything (or anyone) comes close to making us buy this as a higher-ticket item, it's Zahn, who raised his hairline and bulked up to play a quintessential-looking cop. While Lawrence's antics smack of "look-at-me" desperation, Zahn's performance has more depth than the rest of an otherwise good-enough cast, so much so that you find yourself rooting for him. And you know what? At the end of the day, that's probably all the director wanted.