LIKE TV comics-turned-movie gods Eddie Murphy and Jim Carrey before him, Martin Lawrence appears well on his way to achieving film superstardom -- success I fervently wish for him not only because he's a homeboy from Landover but because he's an immensely funny and appealing performer.
Unfortunately, if he keeps choosing to appear in tepid, unoriginal and hard-to swallow vehicles like "Blue Streak," his career trajectory will be a lot flatter and more painfully protracted than necessary.
Don't get me wrong. As charming jewel thief-turned-cop impersonator Miles Logan, Lawrence is perfectly cast and his patented blend of glib geniality and willingness to play the fool are as endearing as they ever were on his old Fox sitcom. Too bad the script here is so limp and the talented supporting cast so wasted that Lawrence is left to do all the heavy lifting himself.
When the master thief's heist of a $20 million diamond goes awry, thanks to a betrayal by reptilian partner in crime Deacon (Peter Greene), Logan is arrested and jailed, but not before stashing the walnut-sized rock in the ventilation shaft of a building under construction across the street from the break-in. Paroled two years later, Logan returns to retrieve the hidden booty, only to discover to his horror that the completed building is a brand-new police station.
As Lawrence was so beloved for doing on TV, right off the bat he gets to display his talent for hysterically over-the-top caricature as Logan dons a wig of mini-dreads, a velour jumpsuit and a set of crooked prosthetic teeth that could clean corn off the cob through a screen door, posing as a pizza delivery man in an initial, failed attempt to infiltrate the station.
Enter Detective Malone, Logan's hastily adopted alter ego in blue. Armed with a fake badge, stolen ID, a file of forged paperwork (including several bogus commendations) and a knowledge of police procedure cribbed from episodes of "Cops," Logan/Malone blusters his way into the department, where his unorthodox methods and inadvertent capture of an escaped suspect implausibly gets him promoted to lead detective in the robbery division.
"Believe that," says Logan (repeatedly), in an attempt to squeeze even more juice out of Lawrence's signature catch phrase. (You may, but I don't buy the far-fetched premise for a second.)
While he tries to find enough downtime to search the air-conditioning ducts for the diamond -- no longer where he left it, wouldn't you know it? -- his increasing and unwitting success in law enforcement practically leads to a second career, reinforced by his reluctant arrest of his former getaway car driver Tulley (manic Dave Chappelle) during a convenience store stickup.
With the exception of Chappelle, though, whose nervous comic energy nicely plays off Lawrence's ultimately silly attempts at silky bravado, the rest of the cast's gifts are woefully underutilized, particularly those of Luke Wilson as Malone's inexperienced partner Carlson. The quizzical deadpan that Wilson so delightfully employed in "Bottle Rocket," "Home Fries" and "Rushmore" is nowhere in evidence as he phones in a performance that could as easily have been replicated by his cardboard lobby cutout.
In fairness, however, this is less his fault than that of scriptwriters Michael Berry, John Blumenthal and Steve Carpenter, who seem too afraid of letting the straight man upstage Lawrence to give Wilson any interesting material to run with. What's more, they blow not one but two opportunities to inject some much needed estrogen into this formulaic string of macho car chases. A tart turn by Tamala Jones as Logan's angry ex-girlfriend is dispensed with in one brief, early scene, and all of Lawrence's potential chemistry with Nicole Ari Parker, playing a sexy public defender, is utterly and inexplicably squandered after some go-nowhere encounters that seem leftover from an early version of the screenplay that may actually at one point have had a love interest.
But no matter.
Like Butch, Sundance and every beguilingly roguish criminal since, Logan is one of those endearing antiheroes who flout convention and legality and still make you love him. The same is true of bad boy Martin Lawrence, whose bizarre behavior a couple years back earned him many unflattering headlines. Currently recuperating from a recent heatstroke-induced coma, the actor deserves to go on to become as huge as he wants to be, but not for mediocre dreck like this.
As undeniably charismatic as its star may be, the only destination this "Blue Streak" seems headed for is the dusty back shelf of the video store.
BLUE STREAK (PG-13, 96 minutes) -- Contains a smattering of dirty words and bullets. Area theaters.