There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
National Security is something of a landmark: a movie whose trailers keep its best jokes secret. Not only that, but the seemingly tired gags that the misfired marketing campaign does reveal are improved a thousand times over in context. Martin Lawrence, who briefly lost his touch with the clunkers What’s the Worst That Could Happen? and Black Knight, and failed to draw box office with the decent Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat, likely has another hit to add to the resume with this buddy-security-guard movie, which proves that been-there genres can still be entertaining in the right hands. (And even that’s a surprise—who’d expect director Dennis Dugan to have a pitch-perfect comedy in him after Saving Silverman?) Lawrence plays Earl Montgomery, a wannabe cop who gets thrown out of the police academy for being a little too silly and way too overzealous. While trying to get his keys out of his locked car one day, he’s approached by Officer Hank Rafferty (Steve Zahn), whose questioning trips Earl’s racial-indignation wire, leading to mutual arrests (one of the citizen’s variety) and a bystander-captured video of Hank furiously swatting a bee away from the allergic Earl. From afar, of course, this insect-induced flailing looks like white-on-black assault, and Hank ends up getting kicked off the force and spending six months in prison (in solitary, which he invites by punching guards in the face to avoid the much-harsher fate of dealing with black inmates who know what he’s in for). Both Hank and Earl wind up as security guards for the same company and spend the rest of the movie working through their hatred of each other as they crack the case of illegal goings-on at a warehouse Earl guards. Sounds awful, right? As predictable as the broad strokes may be, the beauty here is in the details: Zahn plays his redneck-looking straight man minus the all-knowing-asshole bent; Lawrence brings so much childlike enthusiasm and—more important—actual competence to all things enforcement-related that his never-ending railing on the plight of the black man floats right along with his silly siren noises instead of getting weighted down in genre-inappropriate anger. Aside from a strangely serious opening sequence, Dugan flows National Security perfectly, balancing plot-advancing scenes with goofy asides and wrapping up at just the right moment. Earl may spend most of the movie asking “What the problem is?” of the exasperated people forced to deal with him, but at least as far as the audience is concerned, there isn’t one. —Tricia Olszewski