Martin Lawrence -- former star of the hit TV series "Martin" -- turned vulgar observations and impressive comic timing into commercial gold with 1994's "You So Crazy," one of the highest-grossing concert films ever. Lawrence has made a fairly smooth transition to features too, teaming with Will Smith for the immensely popular "Bad Boys" and hooking up with Eddie Murphy for Life.
His obvious talent for comic expression, sadly enough, is all but lost in the noisy shuffle of "Blue Streak," a tepid, often annoying comedy that sees the usually reliable actor applying his idiosyncratic style and offbeat physical shtick to the role of a jewel thief who's forced to masquerade as a police detective.
Lawrence offers a showy, only occasionally funny turn in a film that seems like a victim of serious underdevelopment. It's as if director Les Mayfield ("Flubber") and his trio of screenwriters stumbled onto an intriguing high concept -- Martin as a cop and a criminal, all at the same time! -- and then left well enough alone.
The result is a lonely, only occasionally inspired lead performance in a movie that likewise struggles to maintain a consistent tone. What's so funny about a best friend getting shot in the head, or a former partner in crime (a frightening Peter Greene) who's bent on vengeance?
Lawrence is Miles Logan, a slick, fast-talking safe cracker whose plan to lift a $20 million diamond is executed in a tense, high-tech prologue that amounts to the movie's most impressive sequence. Perpetrated in a downtown Los Angeles skyscraper, the heist goes south thanks to the bloodthirsty greed of crew member Deacon (Greene). Mere moments before he's arrested, Logan stashes the jewel inside the air vent of a nearby building that's still under construction.
Two years later, he's out on the street and ready to retrieve his hidden prize. First stop is an attempted reconciliation with his old girlfriend, Janiece (Tamala Jones), who had been under the impression that her beau was a banker. After that one painfully unfunny scene, she simply disappears from the script.
Next, it's back to the scene of the crime, where that edifice-in-progress turns out to be the new digs of the Los Angeles Police Department. Spending an absurd few minutes disguised as a buck-toothed pizza-delivery guy (complete with nerd glasses and a jumpsuit), Logan manages to finagle his way into LAPD headquarters, thanks in part to the incompetence of vanilla-bland rookie Detective Carlson (Luke Wilson).
Either of those last two segments might easily have worked as small-screen sketches, or as bits in another movie. But neither is as funny as the filmmakers imagine.
"Blue Streak" then slips into even more predictable territory, as Logan -- now disguised as Malone -- spars with his dumb-and-dumber partner, Carlson; accidentally catches a real criminal or two; and relies on his resume as a crook to bust up a major heroin-smuggling operation.
Lawrence's latest vehicle has its moments, including an exhilarating car chase or two, an unexpected encounter with old compadre Tulley (Dave Chappelle), some admiring reactions from fellow cop Hardcastle (William Forsythe) and tough exchanges with Deacon and a drug kingpin (Olek Krupa). But true to its title, "Blue Streak" is mostly a blur, a routine exercise in moviemaking that's sure to be forgotten after opening weekend.