Blue Streak (1999)

D: Les Mayfield
S: Martin Lawrence, Luke Wilson

Zippy action comedy following the adventures of jewel thief Martin Lawrence (Life) in pursuit of hidden loot in an unlikely locale. We are introduced to the character as a sort of lovable prankster, mothering over his band of robbers as they break into an office block late at night. The job goes awry when cohort Peter Greene double crosses him. Just before being arrested, Lawrence stores a massive diamond on a building site. When he returns to claim it two years later, he is horrified to discover that the site is now a police station. He decides to pose as a cop to gain access to the building, but, of course, finds himself embroiled in all kinds of legitimate police work with chaotic consequences, especially when his former associates start showing up.

There's nothing to this film other than a premise and a star turn from its leading man. Essentially, this is all its needs. The script, concocted by the usual small committee, is little more than a series of set pieces with some narrative threads running through the first hour or so, and though there are few punchlines, it still plays best as comedy. Director Les Mayfield keeps the pace up by taking no more time with each scene than is necessary to set the stage for Lawrence's hijinks. He ensures that there is constant musical accompaniment and the film is puncuated with action scenes with lots of shouting and fast-moving shiny objects, so when supporting characters and sub-plots appear and disappear at will, it is not particularly distressing. It does run out of steam in the last half hour with an especially contrived climax involving drug dealers, car chases, and the Mexican border, but the star never does, so again it doesn't matter.

Martin has long been compared with Eddie Murphy, and there is something of 48 Hrs. and Beverly Hills Cop in this movie. It deals with a black fish out of water in the heart of white law enforcement, and though the film lacks the darker edge of the former and the outrageous set pieces of the latter, there is irresistible, intended irony in Lawrence's impersonation of an LA detective. The interrogation scenes where he constantly beats up suspects, his willingness to overlook misdemeanours and speak to criminals as equals are sneaky, if not particularly pointed gags at the expense of the system (witness the scene where he learns how to imitate a police officer by watching episodes of COPS). It is not as edgy as Murphy's earlier vehicles though, and Lawrence does not attempt to imitate his mentor's style. He has a likable charm of his own, which he plays well. The character comes across as something of a harmless child, basically well meaning and quick witted enough to improvise his way out of trouble for as long as the movie needs him to. The only moment of moral pause offered by the film is when his former girlfriend closes the door on him upon his return from prison, otherwise this is strictly fantasy where both 48 Hrs. and Beverly Hills Cop had hard edged interjections of racism, violence, and satire.

At a bare ninety minutes and making as few demands on the audience as it does, Blue Streak is ideal video fodder. It has one or two good laughs, never gets preachy, and allows Lawrence to carry it all the way, which he almost does. It could have been meatier, it might have followed a number of sub-plots in more detail and it might have explained what happened to one or two of the supporting cast, but it doesn't. The technical credits are about par for the course (a heist, some car chases, a couple of shoot outs), and Lawrence's fans will enjoy him going about his business with skill and ease. In short, this is a film which delivers what it promises, and if its promises are not particularly appealing to you at first glance, then you can safely leave it in peace. On the other hand, if it sounds like your kind of flick, it probably is. Enjoy.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2000.