In the wake of a summer of capers and cons, "Blue Streak" arrives as a dull afterthought and a sorry vehicle for the comic expression of Martin Lawrence.

In the wake of a summer of capers and cons, “Blue Streak” arrives as a dull afterthought and a sorry vehicle for the comic expression of Martin Lawrence. Though unevenly devised as an homage to the whole range of ’70s crime pics from blaxploitation to buddie cop comedies, modest production plays closer to a made-for-TV project than anything worthy of the bigscreen. This will be the true test of Lawrence’s drawing power, both as proof of what fans will tolerate from the star and whether thesp’s recent near-death experience will translate into curious, sympathetic ticket buyers. After opening-week bang, “Streak” will dissolve into B.O. blur, with eventual ancillary cash-in.

Unlike his success as co-star with Eddie Murphy in “Life,” Lawrence has to carry the day by himself and ends up suffering the familiar scourge endured by funnymen forced to make some kind of silk purse out of a sow’s ear. While the script by Michael Berry, John Blumenthal and Steve Carpenter relies heavily on irony — protag’s skills as a jewel thief prove to be a bonus when he poses as a cop — it’s of the clunkiest, most obvious kind, resulting in a depressingly low laugh count.

In fact, as he has displayed before, Lawrence can be most effective in straight dramatic moments, and that is just what he delivers here in a well-paced 13-minute prologue, as a heist crew led by ruthless Deacon (Peter Greene) bypasses security at a downtown L.A. skyscraper to nab a large, megamillion-dollar diamond. Lawrence’s Miles Logan is believably no-nonsense as the safecracker, and when Deacon tries to double-cross him and the rest of the crew, Miles duct-tapes the rock in a vent of the neighboring building under construction, and then is quickly arrested.

Action slows to a lumbering pace as it jumps forward two years to Miles’ prison release and a pathetically unfunny scene with spurning g.f. Janiece (Tamala Jones), which pretty much sets standard for rest of pic’s stabs at comedy. Miles’ bigger bummer follows, though, when he returns to the scene of the crime and realizes that the building where he stored the precious stone is now an LAPD headquarters.

Copying the kind of antics Lawrence used to do in his “Martin” series, Miles returns to the building disguised as a buck-toothed pizza delivery boy, and in the process swipes rookie detective Carlson’s (Luke Wilson) security and ID cards. With forgeries and a cool set of threads, Miles returns a third time, posing as Detective Malone.

No sooner is Miles in the door then lucks turns his way. While trying to get inside an air duct from the ladies’ restroom to retrieve the rock, he inadvertently nabs an escaping felon, impressing brass who assign him as lead detective, partnered with Carlson.

Duo go through standard genre antics: showoff Miles drives like Bullitt, and his streetwise methods upstage Carlson’s bland, by-the-books gumshoe. But what could have been a funny and thrilling centerpiece to this section falls flat as Miles happens to run into — and reluctantly arrests — Tulley (Dave Chappelle), the getaway driver in the jewel heist, now reduced to holding up liquor stores.

Per production notes, Chappelle’s role was expanded from cameo to supposedly bigger showcase for the gifted comic, but a mere slip of his talents is mined here. The hoped-for Lawrence-Chappelle chemistry never ignites, and they’re left with a series of half-written scenes in which Miles is unable to explain his situation to Tulley, and compelled to prove his bona fides to Los Angeles Police Dept. comrades like the aptly named Hardcastle (William Forsythe) by torturing Tulley.

Lawrence, more a visual than a verbal comic, has seldom been so ineffective, his strengths virtually untapped by helmer Les Mayfield. The cast pulls off some mildly effectively tough guys, led by Forsythe and Greene, with Olek Krupa effectively fearsome as a drug kingpin and Nicole Ari Parker limning a tough-gal public defender.

Pic’s flat, overlit look and L.A. settings are tips of the cap to ’70s style, reinforced by Edward Shearmur’s funk-driven score and touches like the closing freeze-frame. Style, though, is not pushed to resounding effect, consistent with pic’s overall half-realized feel.

Blue Streak

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures presentation of a Neal H. Moritz/IndieProd/Jaffe production. Produced by Toby Jaffe, Neal H. Moritz. Executive producers, Daniel Melnick, Allen Shapiro. Co-producers, Michael Fottrell, Peaches Davis. Directed by Les Mayfield. Screenplay, Michael Berry, John Blumenthal, Steve Carpenter.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), David Eggby; editor, Michael Tronick; music, Edward Shearmur; music supervisor, Ken Ross; production designer, Bill Brzeski; art director, Philip Toolin; set decorator, Brana Michelle Roenfeld; costume designer, Denise Wingate; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS), John Naveira; supervising sound editor, John Morris; assistant director, Bruce Franklin; casting, Lynn Kressel. Reviewed at Beverly Connection, L.A., Aug. 31, 1999. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Miles Logan Martin Lawrence Carlson Luke Wilson Deacon Peter Greene Tulley -Dave Chappelle Hardcastle - William Forsythe Melissa Green - Nicole Ari Parker Rizzo - Graham Beckel Glenfiddish - Robert Miranda LaFleur - Olek Krupa Benny - Saverio Guerra Uncle Lou - Richard C. Sarafian Janiece - Tamala Jones
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