by Coco Delgado
Inspired casting of raucous Lawrence with offbeat Zahn makes for surprising comedy.
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Not surprisingly, I see a lot of movies. I managed to see 66 movies in 2002, not counting the few I saw more than once. Consequently, I also see a lot of previews for upcoming movies. And I’ve noticed that lately a big catchphrase in them (lately, in the trailers for The Recruit and Basic) is Things Are Not What They Seem or Appearances Can Be Deceiving.
This is actually the message National Security tries to convey. And I know what you’re thinking. A straight-up action movie with lots of cars crashing and things exploding has a message? It does, indeed. It’s actually rather heavy-handed and anvilly about making sure we get it, too…but it’s not a bad moral, as morals go.
Don’t jump to conclusions based on things you think you see. Don’t believe things you think you know.
Now, I’m not trying to say it’s a Sunday School lesson or anything, but it is a step above the sort of message you get from most actioners, which is generally something along the lines of Communism is bad. Terrorists are bad. Destroying personal property in the process of thwarting these evils is good.
And apart from that, it’s cleverly written, and well acted by Martin Lawrence and, as always, Steve Zahn. Steve Zahn is rapidly becoming one of those talented, versatile actors who tends to play the same sort of affable yet clueless schlub, but always somehow makes that schlub an Everyman. He’s brilliant as Hank, an LA unformed cop who loses his partner, meets up with Martin Lawrence’s cop wannabe Earl and goes into a bit of a downward spiral.
(Hank’s partner, Charlie, is played by Timothy Busfield, the pride of Sacramento — remember when he used to be someone? Now he’s a cop who dies in the second scene. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.)
There are some terribly witty lines, and some very funny scenes, which, refreshingly, are based on circumstances and situations rather than on bodily functions. Hank and Earl are just two regular guys for whom, when things go wrong, they go very wrong, and on an apocalyptic, September-11 scale. These guys have elevated the art of having a bad day to epic proportions.
But, in the end it’s still your basic car chase flick, the guy’s version of the romantic comedy in terms of cinematic experiences. And yeah, they blow stuff up real good (a credited cameo by Joe Flaherty makes the explosions a huge inside joke, which I am sure was not fully appreciated by anyone else in the theatre). Even the film’s title is a bit of a joke. The people involved with making this movie had an eye for detail and a fondness for sly, subtle references. Which is a good thing. Shows they put a bit of effort into it. So while it’s your basic shoot-em-up, give-the-Dukes-of-Hazzard-a-run-for-their-money-making-cars-fly exercise, it isn’t your average one. Surprisingly, there’s a brain behind all those explosions and screeching brakes…
Which is what National Security has been trying to tell us all along: Don’t jump to conclusions based on things you think you see. Don’t believe things you think you know.
Coco Delgado lives in Cambridge-Somerville and always sits in the front row. Her 2003 New Years resolution is to see more than the 66 movies she saw last year.
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