Martin Lawrence Puts The 'Spree' Back In Crime With His Charmingly Deceptive 'Blue Streak.'
By James DiGiovanna
SEPTEMBER 27, 1999: THE ODDEST THING about Martin Lawrence is the extent to which he apes Jerry Lewis. Though it seems to go unnoticed by most of his fans, about half of his shtick is straight-up Jerry Lewis goofball humor.
For example, in Blue Streak, he even goes so far as to put in goofy teeth and don thick glasses and a nerdy hairdo, in a sort of homage to the kind of character Lewis played in such films as The Nutty Professor. Of course, Lawrence is too cool to play a whole movie like this; for most of the film he's a suave and ultra-knowledgeable jewel thief.
Which is also an interesting oddity about this film. While a black man playing a criminal is nothing new, a black man playing an intellectual criminal is. Mostly, black actors are given the parts of street thugs, muggers, gang members and other such non-respectable types of crooks. If a film is about a thief with special skills, the part usually goes to Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan or some other white guy with a good agent.
Super-thieves like these use high-tech gadgets to implement insanely clever plans that require, above all, insanely clever screenwriters. While Lawrence's character Miles Logan has the high-tech goods, his capers are noticeably lackluster, since they don't have the scripted smarts that made Brosnan's heists in The Thomas Crown Affair so fun to watch.
Slack screenwriting is actually the Achilles' heel of Blue Streak. Basically, the movie begins with a jewel heist. When things predictably go awry, jewel thief Miles Logan hides a multi-million dollar diamond in an air vent at a half-finished building. Two years later, when Logan gets out of jail, he goes to gather the goods and learns that the building is now a police station.
In the real world, if this were to happen, the jewel thief would probably have to give up any hope of getting the jewel. Actually, in the real world this wouldn't have happened at all.
But since this is a wacky Hollywood comedy, Logan decides to pose as a police officer in order to get into the building. And of course, while he's doing this, he's dragged off to work on a case. And then he gets named head of the burglary division (because that's what happens when you use a fake ID to infiltrate police headquarters).
And, of course, Logan turns out to be the greatest cop who ever lived. He awes the real police with his knowledge of criminal technique, something they've apparently never studied or even thought about, because, being cops, they obviously have no experience with crime.
Most of the film is taken up with a series of mishaps wherein Logan gets close to the diamond, and then is called away or forced to leave it behind. It's very Three's Company meets Three Stooges, but without the kind of subtle, intellectual comedy that marked those efforts.
Luke Wilson plays Martin Lawrence's partner, in a new concept that's sure to kill. See, Wilson is a white man and Lawrence is a black man. But they're buddies. Get it? One buddy, Anglo-American; the other, African-American. To quote Keanu Reeves, "Whoa!" Further, the Anglo-American buddy is a nerdy uptight guy. The black buddy? You'll never believe it: he's funky and street smart!
Of course, you're thinking, "These guys will never become pals!" But no, by the end of the movie, they actually find out that they can really learn something from each other. It is as though two worlds have come together for us on the screen.
This is a real switch on the old-time buddy movies of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. See, while Lewis was a nerdy white guy, Dean Martin was a suave Italian guy. Italian was about as close as Hollywood could get to "black" in those days. While the Lewis/Martin movies lacked 1990s-style ethnic diversity, they had something largely absent from Blue Streak: a script.
In spite of this, Lawrence's performance alone makes Blue Streak somewhat charming. It's amusing to watch him in his Herculean struggle to make some of this material funny. While he rarely succeeds, he's just so damn likable you want to take him out and buy him a real movie. With any luck, someday he'll get one.
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