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National Security
Directed by Dennis Dugan (Columbia, in release)

A droll twist on the buddy-cop genre, National Securitypairs two police rejects who seem more bent on antagonizing one another than on tracking down a group of villains. Hapless Hank Rafferty (Steve Zahn) once served on the LAPD, but loses his decorations when he gets caught on videotape in what looks like a brutal assault on Earl Montgomery (Martin Lawrence), who has recently flunked the police academy. Later, as security guards (the butt of numerous jokes), they are reunited in a shoot-out with smugglers of a rare atomic alloy. Hardly a scene goes by in which viewers aren't reminded of these two bickering crime-fighters' race, but the film is too parodic to veer into any real hostility, in part because it's hard to imagine Zahn truly angry at anyone. He sustains his trademark cartoon rictus, suggestive of a young William Macy on E, even in the slo-mo daredevil scenes. Lawrence's talk-now-think-later shtick is hit or miss, but as the two cop manqués overcome their dearth of common sense to save the day, the film achieves a comic playfulness. —Michael Miller


A Guy Thing
Directed by Chris Koch (MGM, in release)

Julia Stiles can't dance. While I happen to be rhythm-blind, this has irritated a balletomane friend throughout many of Stiles's films (notably the hip-hop romance Save the Last Dance). Now, in her role as Becky the half-assed tiki girl, Stiles's left-footedness can finally be named, only one of the many pleasures tugging this girl-snatches-guy-from-altar comedy a notch above standard. "You really suck at this," Paul (Jason Lee), a man too timid to wear the little elastic groom hat at his own bachelor party, tells Becky as they meet cute. Luckily, he means shaking her coconuts, not playing the zany-yet-straight-shooting Betty to Selma Blair's schoolmarmish Veronica. The three move through a faded deck of clichés—Venereal Disease Announced in Pharmacy; Great-Aunt Pudge the Lush; and the set piece, There's Pot in the Gravy—with a convincing impression of having fun, helped along by a snazzy '60s-'70s soundtrack and bit-part fillips like the rotund, yet sublimely graceful dance instructor. —Anya Kamenetz

 
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