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Lawrence Gets Behind the Wheel

FOR THE TIMES

Committees make movies like “Blue Streak” and the finished product looks as if this particular panel still hasn’t reached a quorum, much less a consensus.

It starts out like a caper flick that shifts, almost by accident, into an episode from the old “Martin” TV series. Eventually, it settles for being a bleached, cluttered photostat of “Beverly Hills Cop,” if only a bit more clever than the original.

What makes this confusion troubling is that “Blue Streak” represents Martin Lawrence’s first real chance to distinguish himself as a movie lead, unencumbered by charismatic sidekicks like Will Smith (“Bad Boys”) or Eddie Murphy (“Life”) sharing top billing.

Even more than those aforementioned stars, Lawrence’s manic teddy-bear persona is capable of making you laugh at him the moment he appears on screen. If we lived in smarter, better times, someone would have thought long ago about giving Lawrence’s penchant for outrageous comic transformation the kind of cinematic framework Peter Sellers was routinely given in his early years.

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Instead, critics and producers alike pegged Lawrence as being little more than a Murphy clone. This is the same stupid thinking that puts Chris Rock and Chris Tucker as equals because they’re black, funny and have the same first names. Still, if I were Lawrence, the last (or next-to-last) thing I’d want for my own vehicle is the kind of action-comedy that made Murphy a box-office powerhouse.

Nonetheless, here is Lawrence, going for the gold as Miles Logan, a clever, quick-on-his-feet jewel thief whose plans to steal a $20-million diamond are waylaid by a treacherous partner. Just before he’s caught, Miles stashes the rock in the air duct of a half-finished building in downtown Los Angeles. Two years later, he’s paroled and ready to collect his prize. Instead, he gets the surprise of his life: The finished building houses the police department’s 37th precinct.

All he has to do is find the air duct, pick up the diamond and split. To do this he has to pretend to be one of the police department’s finest. Trouble is, Miles is so convincing--and effective--as a faux robbery cop that he can’t get his buddies in blue to leave him alone long enough to get his prize.

The premise is clever enough, but the movie weighs it down with so many digressions (the obligatory foreign drug kingpin, Dave Chappelle as Miles’ street-punk confederate) that its 90-plus minutes seem more like 180.

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Still, Lawrence handles both the comic and action sides of his role with surprising ease. The odds of pulling this off are just as formidable as those Lawrence recently faced in real life after collapsing into a coma while jogging in extreme heat. If and when he fully recovers, he has every right to be proud of carrying this rickety film on his stooped shoulders. But, as Murphy himself eventually did, he also should ponder more challenging vehicles to drive.

* MPAA rating: PG-13 for action violence, continuous language and some crude humor. Times guidelines: lots of vulgar language and explosive violence.

‘Blue Streak’

Martin Lawrence: Miles Logan

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Luke Wilson: Carlson

Peter Greene: Deacon

Dave Chappelle: Tulley

Nicole Ari Parker: Melissa Green

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Columbia Pictures presents a Neal H. Mortiz/IndieProd/Jaffe Production. Directed by Les Mayfield. Produced by Toby Jaffe and Neal H. Mortiz. Written by Michael Berry & John Blumenthal and Steve Carpenter. Cinematographer David Eggby. Editor Michael Tronick. Production design Bill Brzeski. Costume design Denise Wingate. Music Edward Shearmur. Art director Philip Toolin. Set decorator Brana Michelle Roenfeld. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

In general release.


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