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NewCityNet Police Forced

By Ray Pride

SEPTEMBER 20, 1999:  There was only a little sweat on Martin Lawrence's brow.

A week before his most recent odd interlude -- falling into a three-day coma after trying to lose weight for a role by jogging in ninety-plus degree heat with several layers of heavy clothes -- Lawrence looked trim and together. We were talking about "Blue Streak," his latest action-shtick vehicle that shows his post-Richard, post-Eddie, post-"Martin" chops to pleasingly whimsical effect. (Especially with a little Jerry Lewis thrown in for ill measure.)

"Blue Streak" fits the familiar "48 HRS" and "Lethal Weapon" genre, with cops of different races and responsibility banged together. Martin's a chameleon in endlessly anxious situations in a coincidence-ridden, lunatics-running-the-asylum romp of a performance. The elevated depth of the comedic bunkum of this post-"Bad Boys" Bruckheimer Lite movie is a scene where Lawrence, boasting crossed eyes, crazy hair and worse teeth than "Austin Powers" does a minstrelsy-style turn as a gimp pizza delivery man.

Lawrence plays a high-line thief who goes to jail for a flubbed jewel robbery and returns to the construction site where he stashed the goods a couple years earlier. What were they building? A newfangled police station. What to do? Bluff and bluster his way into plumbing the depths of its ventilation system and recover the gem. Or, as such luck would have it, become a better cop than the cops themselves, getting into the building but also into the dilemma of being mistaken for a new transfer. Partner Luke Wilson isn't given much to do, unlike his work in "Bottle Rocket," but he's got aw-shucks charm to burn that will work elsewhere. Dave Chappelle is also on hand as a colleague in crime with some prize riffs of his own.

Director Les Mayfield ("Flubber") marshals the gags with crisp dispatch, managing a few worthy grace notes, including the action-hero climax that paces out the lone-wolf heroics and allows for the customary revenge without the customary laughs and one-liners to alleviate the pain being represented. Even when the story's plot points leapfrog shamelessly from "A" to "B" to "F," Lawrence is adept at surfing the logic gaps in this showcase for the purr and meowl of his personality. It's the kind of amiable foolishness that gives me guilty grins. It's a stop-start movie, but Lawrence is sweetly electric.

A plate of donuts -- an alleged cop joke from the publicists -- rests on a nearby table. "Donuts for me? No. No donuts!" the 34-year-old actor laughs as he enters the room. Among the impressive array of handlers (or members of his entourage), one plucks a thread from Lawrence's solid black DKNY ensemble as the actor settles into his seat, the slightest tremble in his voice. What's it like playing someone who's playing a cop instead of playing a cop? "It's easy," he says, smiling. "All I really had to think about is being a thief, because I knew I wasn't a cop. I didn't really have to do no research on being a cop. I felt I just had to follow what the director was putting me on, y'know."

Lawrence's usual m.o. is to be thrust into a scene and has to react, unlike Eddie Murphy, transforming a room he walks into. The pizza man is more in Murphy's style. "The script gave a slight blueprint, but I had to make it mine. I was able to that with that character. The voice he had, nyahh-nyahh, I go in there and have some fun. It's all cool."

On-screen, Lawrence manages to seem not at all gun-shy about his first time carrying a film, coolly alternating between suave and giddy. "I get up for the challenge. That's what they pay me the dollars for. I can see the pressures of carrying the show, but I had fun. If you're having fun, you're leading by example and everybody picks up on it, y'know."

During a pregnant pause between questions, Lawrence asks, "Y'all not cold in this room? It's very chilly. Whooo! You can turn that off 'til I'm gone! Whoof!"

While Lawrence hasn't done stand-up since the punishing schedule of his "Martin" series and movies in between, he still sees it as the roots to his comedy. "It's freedom of expression. Comedy soothes the soul, y'know? It's enlightening to other people... when they get it! There's nothing like humor. You can't beat it. I think everybody responds to humor. We're always dealing with dark things in our life, y'know. You want somebody to throw the joke out. It's like seeing somebody do their magic trick."

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