National Security (UK - BD)
Leigh sits through another entry from the stellar Martin Lawrence back-catalogue
Hank Rafferty (Steve Zahn), a dyed-in-the-wool LAPD cop, sets out to avenge his partner's death after a violent shoot-out. On the other side of town, Earl Montgomery (Lawrence), a loud, brash LAPD trainee is booted out of the academy for simply 'being him'. After the two meet and accidentally clash over race, bees and allergic reactions, Rafferty is wrongfully charged with police brutality and lands in jail for six months, while Montgomery becomes a security guard. The laws of second-tier Martin Lawrence action comedy vehicles state that once the two meet up again, they will have to grudgingly team up to foil a gang that just so happens to be the ones that shot Rafferty's partner. Many hijinks ensue.
When viewing the Martin Lawrence oeuvre, it's fairly easy to split his movies into categories. Firstly you have the man's only true blockbusters ( Bad Boys and Bad Boys II), then his dismal family output ( Rebound, Big Momma's House, Black Knight, etc.), and then, all on its own, his only 'proper' film (the underrated Life). National Security shares it's category with Blue Streak, which should be placed in a box labelled 'Bad Boys Wannabes, But Not As Funny, and With Poor Action'.
For some reason, I've seen both this and Blue Streak more than once, and I tend to lump them both together. Both share the same template, hitting the same structural beats in the script, it has a similar 'reluctant partner' dynamic, and overall, it's easy to look at the two films as companion pieces. The only real difference is that while Blue Streak was more successful at being a comedy than it was at being an action movie, the tables are turned for National Security.
National Security falls into the same 'buddy' routine that served 48 Hours so well way back in '83; the antagonism had a racial undercurrent. However, while the potentially uncomfortable comedy was well handled by Eddie Murphy, Nick Nolte and director Walter Hill, with the best example being the classic redneck bar sequence, here the tone is far broader, and unfortunately rather uncomfortable, with the prime example being the 'amusing' spoof of the Rodney King beatings. Now, I understand that a large part of Rafferty's character flaws is his ability to blame all of his misfortunes in life on racial prejudice, and the irony this is supposed to conjure, but the angle is so poorly handled by the script and director Dennis Dugan that these sequences leave a very sour taste in the mouth.
The comedy works better in other scenes, and while there are no real home runs in the film, there are some scenes that raise a chuckle or two, such as an interrogation scene where Lawrence and Zahn try to wriggle out of arrest. It has to be said, that while Lawrence is largely on autopilot in solo scenes, the buddy chemistry with Zahn works far better than it did with Luke Wilson in Blue Streak.
Steve Zahn seems to be making more of an effort with his character than most 'second banana' actors would in a film like this. Bulked up and with his hairline shaved high to give a more severe look, Zahn mixes physical comedy with some unexpected dramatic chops, with the opening scenes being given more weight than a lot of actors would bother with. His comic chops serve him pretty well here, working with director Dugan for the second time, the first being the rather poor Saving Silverman. He also sells the action well, which is one thing the film (mostly) pulls off well. Although primarily a comedy director dealing mostly in Adam Sandler films, Dugan steals action beats left, right and centre, but at least he steals from the best; the slow motion dives and noisy gunplay echo the Americanised output of John Woo, with the help of Face/Off cinematographer Oliver Wood.
As a result, National Security's action sequences such as the soft drinks factory gunfight are played pretty straight, and are more successful as a result. Or at least they would be, if Sony hadn't hired a three-fingered gibbon to edit the film. The action sequences have been robbed of all sense of geography, which make the scenes fairly incoherent. The slipshod editing doesn't end there; there is evidence of some appalling continuity that really shouldn't have made it through post-production. The most glaring error is the fact that there are several sequences that were clearly shot several months after shooting wrapped, as Zahn's hairline has clearly grown back. Do they cut around these shots to hide the fact? Uh-uh. This is not only highly distracting, but oddly aggravating. That last sentence sums up National Security perfectly. The movie proves an amiable watch, but there are enough schoolboy errors in both tone and basic construction to leave the viewer thoroughly short changed if they are caught in the wrong mood.
The 1080p 1.85:1 transfer is pretty solid, but to be honest not that much better than the (admittedly still quite good) standard def release. Aside from a little grain, detail is pretty strong, and Oliver Wood's surprisingly strong cinematography looks more impressive than most films in this genre, with the shootout in the soft drinks factory bursting with colour. Blacks are rather deep, and in all the film looks impressive, but I can't see much reason to upgrade if you already bought this on SD DVD
Sony offers a decent 5.1 TrueHD track, which serve the action sequences and soundtrack well. What the track does lack is any subtlety, with little in the way of ambient effects or decent use of surrounds for anything bar shooting. It's not the most finely tuned track in the world, but if loud is what you want, that's what you're going to get.
Carried over from the standard DVD release, the extras are as underwhelming as they ever were. The audio commentary with Dugan is, as always, rather dry and self congratulatory, and while he might be attempting sarcasm, it doesn't make the track any more appealing. The alternate ending is neither interesting nor useful. There are a handful of deleted and extended scenes which are also of little interest, and also snippets of establishing shots in action scenes, which ironically would have given the finished sequences the geography I felt was missing. Disturbing the Peace’s N.S.E.W. music video rounds things off, and on the whole the extras are disappointing, but expected.
One could sit here all day and list the things that are wrong with National Security, but the easiest way to describe the film would be to call it 'woefully misjudged'. Although competently shot and conceived, the off-colour humour and slipshod construction of the film leave the whole affair feeling neutered. Undemanding viewers may glean some enjoyment from the movie, and for all of its faults I've kept the original DVD for years now, so it's not an utter loss, just deeply average. Having said that, I think it's time that Sony stopped re-releasing these also-ran Lawrence movies, and just got on with putting out Bad Boys and it's overambitious but potentially BD friendly sequel instead.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Leigh Riding
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 3rd November 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Italian, Dolby Digital 5.1 Czech, Dolby Digital 5.1 Hungarian, Dolby Digital 5.1 Polish, Dolby Digital 5.1 Russian
Subtitles: Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, English, English HoH, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Slovenian, Swedish, Turkish
Extras: Audio Commentary with Director Dennis Dugan, Deleted Scenes, Alternate Ending, N.S.E.W. Music Video, BD-Live
Easter Egg: No
Director: Dennis Dugan
Cast: Martin Lawrence, Steve Zahn, Eric Roberts,Robinne Lee
Length: 88 minutes
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