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The Martin Lawrence Action-Comedy That's Crushing It On Netflix

Stand up comedian and Big Momma's House star Martin Lawrence's film career has been fairly quiet over the last decade, 2020's Bad Boys for Life notwithstanding. Clearly Netflix viewers are itching to have more Lawrence in their lives, as his 2003 buddy comedy National Security is currently among the top ten most viewed movies on the service.

National Security is one of several action-comedy films Lawrence made in the '90s and early 2000s. In most of them, the comedian played a law enforcement officer of some stripe. Instead of an FBI agent or undercover detective, in National Security, he's a security guard named Earl who flunked out of the police academy. Things get dicey for Earl when a former LAPD officer who he wrongly accused of police brutality, Hank (Steve Zahn), gets a job at the same private security company. And things get even wilder when the unlikely pair have to team up to take down a gang of thieves.

The film's premise is controversial, especially by 2020 standards. However, Netflix viewers are clearly interested to see what National Security has to offer, and as with all buddy comedies worth a watch, it's the stars of the movie that provide the biggest draw.

Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn's chemistry is what makes National Security work

For a buddy comedy to work, the buddies at the core of the film have to be believable. Anybody familiar with the oeuvre of either Lawrence or Zahn might not instantly see them as a natural duo. But according to Lawrence, the two were thick as thieves (or, in this case, security guards trying to catch thieves).

During an interview with My Movies, Lawrence spoke highly of his working relationship with Zahn. The comedian said, "I loved working with Steve... if they had a script tomorrow, I'd do the script with Steve... he's a genuine person. I got big respect for Steve."

Lawrence had further praise for his co-star in an interview with the BBC, where he said, "Steve is a very talented man. He got into the character and was so believable as a cop. He gave me a lot to play off. My character is cocky and always challenging authority. The contrast was awesome."

The solid working relationship between the two actors was noticed by the critics. Melinda Ennis at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote that "Lawrence and Zahn do have a chemistry that is appealing." Meanwhile, Mike Clark of USA Today said, "The picture is all Lawrence and Zahn."

At the time the movie was made, both Lawrence and Zahn were stars in their own right. There is another big name talent who appears in the movie, although she wouldn't go on to gain recognition until later in her career.

National Security gets a little help from a then-unknown Leslie Jones

Even though she became a household name in the mid-2010s thanks to her work on Saturday Night Live, Leslie Jones has been working in the entertainment industry for a long time. And back in 2003, she even had a small roll in a little film called National Security. Jones plays Britney, a truck driver who assaults, and then flirts with, Lawrence's character Earl after she catches him trying to break into her rig.

In 2019, Jones posted a clip from her scene in the movie on Twitter and wrote a bit about her experience: "Yooo someone sent this to me! I rem being like I'm doing a Martin Lawrence movie! They had me trucker dressed real hard looking and Martin was like naw she fine let her look like she wants!"

Her role in the movie is small, but the innate comic timing and charisma that would later go on to make her an SNL star are fully on display. Still, the performances of Lawrence, Zahn, and Jones weren't enough to keep the film from getting dismal reviews when it was released.

Many critics didn't feel the film handled its sensitive subject matter well

When National Security came out, the film was widely panned by critics (it currently holds an 11% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Of the many aspects of the movie that reviewers had issues with, one of the most controversial was the film's treatment of police brutality and race, specifically the plotline involving Earl wrongfully and knowingly accusing Hank of police brutality.

Despite praise for Lawrence and Zahn's chemistry, Melinda Ennis of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had many criticisms for the film, mostly having to do with the script. Ennis noted that a twist that revealed that Zahn's character has a Black girlfriend felt like a "transparent and condescending plot device designed to show that Zahn is not really a racist..." She also felt that the script "reduces Lawrence to a clown, without adding a depth to his character that would give true comic bite to his words."

Writing for the BBC, Jamie Russell had harsh words for the film, which was directed by frequent Adam Sandler collaborator Dennis Dugan and written by the screenwriters behind The Smurfs and Norbit: "Is it a thoroughly offensive attempt to disguise a reactionary view of African Americans as manipulative, self-serving, serial complainers as 'comedy'? Definitely."

When National Security was released, Lawrence defended the film's handling of its sensitive subject matter. He told the BBC in an interview, "I think the director, Dennis Dugan, dealt with the sensitivity of the subject well... We were able to tap into people's emotions in that many things can be misunderstood."

How the film works in 2020 is something the multitude of viewers who have been watching on Netflix are clearly deciding for themselves.