Reviewed by Angel Cohn

What might have been a mildly amusing buddy comedy about mismatched partners — Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn — is destroyed by increasingly awkward and unconvincing attempts to turn it into an action picture. The film completely fails to achieve the finely tuned balance between humor and action that distinguishes films like BEVERLY HILLS COP (1984), LETHAL WEAPON (1987) and even Lawrence's own BAD BOYS (1995). By-the-book cop Hank Rafferty (Zahn) is devastated when he fails to save long-time partner Charlie (Timothy Busfield) during a warehouse shooting. With only a distinctive tattoo to go on, he resolves to find the mysterious man (a bleached-blond Eric Roberts) who fired the fatal bullet. Hank starts by forcing himself back out on the beat, but his mission takes a detour after an unfortunate encounter with cocky police cadet Earl Montgomery (Lawrence), whose outrageous antics have just gotten him tossed out of the police academy. An escalating string of misunderstandings end with Hank accused of racial profiling and abusing Earl; he's kicked off the force and sentenced to six months in prison. Once he gets out, Hank takes a demeaning job as a low-level National Security guard, armed only with a flashlight, pepper spray and a role of quarters to call the cops in case of trouble. Hank resumes his quest for the tattooed man in his spare time, and his investigation coincidentally leads to the soda plant where fellow National Security employee Earl is too busy goofing off to notice thieves robbing the place right under his nose. The pair reluctantly put aside their differences, redirect their unresolved anger to the suspects, and wacky complications ensue. They get stranded on a garbage barge, in the midst of several shootouts (the kind where the blizzard of bullets only runs out at critical dramatic moments) and on the trail of a leak within the police force. Lawrence and Zahn actually complement each other fairly well, which is to say that the only thing that ameliorates Lawrence's constant, grating deployment of the race card ("You're only asking that because I'm black!") is Zahn's comically aggravated response. But the cliched plot and unconvincing action sequences &#151 notably the patently fake explosions and excessive reliance on close-ups to compensate for sloppily executed stunts &#151 don't blend well with the comic scenes and make the film look painfully cheap.