National Security

Sadly, many Americans are still under a spell that causes them to believe Martin Lawrence is funny, despite his not having been funny since 1995. “National Security” may be the magic kiss that finally breaks the spell, though I have learned never to count on a film’s poor quality being enough to deter people from liking it.

In this mindless rehash of a thousand other movies, Lawrence plays Earl Montgomery, a mouthy security guard who wants to be a cop. One day he gets into a skirmish with Hank (Steve Zahn), who is a real cop, which leads to Hank trying to bat away an intruding bumblebee with his nightstick — which, from a certain angle, looks like he’s beating on Earl. This farcical event is caught on amateur videotape, and since Earl is a pigheaded jerk, he perpetuates the misinterpretation in court, leading to a six-month jail sentence for Hank. (This is the first time I know of that someone has gone to jail for participating in a farce. Wouldn’t the cast of “Three’s Company” be on death row by now?)

Hank’s career is ruined, naturally, so when he’s released, the only job he can get is that of a security guard. This leads to more encounters with Earl, and the two wind up working together to find the guys who killed Hank’s partner back when he was still a cop.

While Lawrence has excelled at playing irritating loudmouths, few have been as maddening as Earl Montgomery, a moron who never stops playing the race card. He even has a catchphrase, which you are supposed to start repeating: “What the problem is?”

Steve Zahn is funny. Not in this movie, but in general. It’s too bad he’s here.

This film has an alarmingly bad pedigree. The director is Dennis Dugan, whose credits include “Saving Silverman” (which I sorta liked), “Big Daddy,” “Happy Gilmore” (that’s two Adam Sandler films, if you’re scoring along at home), “Beverly Hills Ninja,” “Brain Donors,” “Problem Child” and episodes of TV’s “Shasta McNasty.” The co-writers are Jay Scherick and David Ronn, whose last two collaborations — “I Spy” and “Serving Sara” — make them the worst duo currently working in Hollywood.

“National Security” is full of shoot-outs, car chases and exploding things, all accompanied by lame one-liners shouted above the din. It is all familiar and derivative and altogether unpleasant to watch.

D (1 hr., 30 min.; PG-13, a lot of profanity, some mild sexuality, a lot of action violence.)