Tag Archives: D-

NATIONAL SECURITY

Back in 1986 John Candy and Eugene Levy, who’d worked together on the SCTV series, made the leap to the big screen in “Armed and Dangerous.” They were actually a pretty good comedy team, but they could do little with the atrocious script which cast them as a couple of bumbling security men, and they understandably went their separate ways afterward. Who could have imagined that anybody might have thought that what we need now is essentially a remake of that unlamented turkey? Nonetheless that’s what we’re given in “National Security,” a slapsticky buddy action-comedy so bad that it’s hard to decide who’s dumber: the two guards at the center of things or the filmmakers who’ve put them there. (To rub our noses in the movie’s pedigree, Joe Flaherty, another SCTV alumnus, pops up briefly for a cameo as the security firm’s officious instructor.)

The unfortunate duo in this case consists of Earl Montgomery (Martin Lawrence), an LAPD recruit who’s tossed out of the academy because of his excessive zeal (rather than his irritation quotient which–given who’s playing him–is understandably high), and Hank Rafferty (Steve Zahn), a cop removed from the force (and jailed) as the result of a false beating accusation Montgomery had made against him. The obviously mismatched pair bicker and upstage one another after they’re accidentally thrown together against a big theft ring involving a dastardly kingpin (Eric Roberts, with horrendous bleached-blond hair) and some corrupt lawmen. Of course, they have to collaborate to survive and catch the villains. Much purportedly humorous mayhem ensues, and the guys inevitably become best buddies in the process.

This thoroughly predictable scenario (by a writing team whose previous masterpiece was the dreadful “Serving Sara”) manages the worst of both worlds: it’s cruelly unfunny, while offering a level of violence–mostly consisting of a series of flamboyantly destructive gunfights and vehicle chases–that will drown out any stray laughter that might occur. (In its treatment of race it’s peculiarly tasteless, too, not merely making a joke of the very real problem of rogue police but dealing with interracial romance in a fashion that seems totally phony in this context. And, of course, Lawrence is already a walking stereotype.) It’s all been flaccidly directed by Dennis Dugan, whose main contribution appears to have consisted in giving his stars absolutely free rein in the mugging department. It’s difficult to say which of the two wins the competition between them. Lawrence is his usual boisterous self, smug and motor-mouthed, and as always he’s awfully hard to take. Zahn tries to match him and pretty much succeeds, but at the loss of the goofy innocence he’s displayed in previous films like “Happy, Texas.” (The “serious” bits in which he agonizes over his dead partner seem out-of-place, too.) Roberts does the snarly bit with his customary oiliness, though the dye job really is a distraction; Colm Feore and Bill Duke are wasted as the obligatory higher-ups in the LAPD (which of them do you suppose turns out to be dirty?).

It’s possible that in the current post-9/11 world, some viewers may be lured into “National Security” in the mistaken assumption that the picture has something to do with keeping the country safe in an age of terrorism. But the greater danger is that they’ll be drawn to it in the misbegotten belief that it’s a comedy. In reality it’s just a loud, frantic and surprisingly mean-spirited mess.

THE NEW GUY

And still they come, one after another–terrible, tedious student comedies, filled with the crummiest of gross-out gags and palpably phony messages about Being True to Yourself and Not Trying to be Someone You’re Not. This time around the picture centers on a hapless geek named Dizzy (DJ Qualls) who’s mercilessly tormented by the jocks and swells at his high school and, while briefly incarcerated, takes lessons about acting cool from Luther, a bad-ass hoodlum type (Eddie Griffin). Once released, he takes a new identity as a fellow named Gil and goes to a different campus, where he quickly becomes the local hero by besting the school bully (Ross Patterson), wooing his girlfriend (Eliza Dushku) and filling the other kids with such spirit that their downtrodden football team wins the state championship. In the process he temporarily ignores his old buddies (Zooey Deschanel, Jerod Mixon and Perry Shen), with whom he has a funk band, but ultimately he reverts to his sweet old self and finds that people admire him even more in that guise.

As is usually the case with these kinds of flicks, “The New Guy” is written like a series of skits with little connection to one another, and in this case they don’t even bother to maintain any inner consistency or logic. The character of Dizzy/Gil switches from cool to nerdy with bewildering frequency, and Luther pops up abruptly whenever needed (he also delivers the obvious narration); pointless cameos by the likes of Jerry O’Connell, Gene Simons, Tommy Lee, Vanilla Ice and Henry Rollins add to the feeling of randomness. The result is an incoherent jumble of tastelessness, stupidity, poor cinematic takeoffs and cloying sweetness, all delivered with numbing clumsiness. The best one can say of it is that it doesn’t get worse as it goes along; but that’s only because it starts out appallingly, with a boner joke that immediately sinks to the nadir, and it’s difficult to live down to that for a full ninety minutes.

Qualls, a gangly fellow who was one of the pals in “Road Trip,” has a certain charm as the transformed Dizzy, but the flick forces him into contortions, both physical and otherwise, that make it impossible for him to maintain his dignity for long. (His appearance, moreover–he looks rather like David Spade stretched out on a rack to greater height, but minus the contemptuous sneer–makes him frankly incredible as a stud. Until someone decides to make a faithful version of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and needs a perfect Ichabod Crane, no role is ever likely completely to suit him.) Dushku looks fine in a cheerleading outfit, but her character–who’s supposed to be simultaneously sultry and sweet–is as conflicted as that of Dizzy/Gil. The other young performers acquaint themselves decently enough in stock roles, though Sher is sadly stuck with some junky gay humor. The real embarrassment, though, is among the grownups. Griffin mugs so badly as Dizzy’s jailhouse mentor that one fears for the scenery as well as his fellow actors. Lyle Lovett plays Dizzy’s dad as a redneck moron, and his line readings defy belief. Illeana Douglas, a talented actress, dumbs down to an appalling degree as a clueless guidance counselor. Kurt Fuller goes out of control as the principal of Dizzy’s new school. But certainly the worst moments belong to veteran Geoffrey Lewis, whose big scene involves his sitting on a toilet and struggling to manage a bowel movement. To think that a respectable career has sunk to this! Technically the flick is mediocre at best, and the direction by writer-turned-helmer Ed Dechter seems flat-footed and unsure.

“The New Guy” isn’t quite as awful as “Not Another Teen Movie” or “Slackers,” but that’s hardly a compliment. As far as the performers and filmmakers are concerned, they’d be well advised simply to point to scripter David Kendall as the main culprit, and embrace as their own one of the lines that he puts into the mouth of Luther near the beginning of the movie. “As you can see,” the con notes while we’re being introduced to Dizzy, “I didn’t have much to work with.”