Hank Rafferty (Zahn) is a typical LAPD cop who, early on, shows his contempt for security guards, claiming to his partner Charlie that they're all ex-cons who can't get another job. They are called in to investigate a warehouse break-in. The partners are separated, and Charlie is killed during a shoot-out with a gang of thieves.
Meanwhile, Earl Montgomery (Lawrence) is trying to get into the police academy, but his constant references to racism and disregard for rules result in him failing the entrance exam. Naturally, he concludes that the whole academy is full of racists.
After Charlie's funeral, Hank refuses to take a new partner and goes on patrol alone. He encounters Earl, as Earl is trying to get the keys he locked in his car. Hank assumes that Earl is a car thief, and Earl inflames the situation by insulting Hank. Just as Hank is about to arrest him, a "big-ass bumblebee" shows up, and Earl demands that Hank get rid of it, claiming to be allergic to bee stings. Hank tries to swat the bumblebee with his nightstick. A tourist films the whole thing from a bad angle, making it look like Hank is brutally beating up Earl. The video is then shown on the news, followed by pictures of Earl with big bruises on his face (actually, the result of a bee sting). The African-American community is in an uproar, and the LAPD and the DA decide to make an example of Hank to calm them down. A biased court finds Hank guilty. Hank is fired and sentenced to 6 months in jail, which he chooses to spend in solitary to avoid being killed by black inmates.
After getting out, Hank is hit by Laser-Guided Karma, as the only job he can get is in security. After finding out that the cops are no closer to solving the warehouse break-in case, he decides to do it himself. He receives a police dispatch call about another warehouse break-in and get on the scene. He finds the same gang there, and a firefight breaks out. Earl, who happens to be working security in the same warehouse, jumps in, and both are forced to work together to survive. Both are arrested during a car chase, and Hank's former boss Lieutenant Washington nearly has him arrested again for violating the restraining order placed by Earl on him. Earl diffuses the situation, as he wants to partner up with Hank to chase the bad guys. Hank is trying to distance himself from Earl and is seriously contemplating beating him up for real. Earl almost helps Hank to convince Hank's ex-girlfriend that there really was a bumblebee at the scene, until Earl learns that she's black. Being firmly against mixed-race relationships (specifically, where the man is white; he himself has no problems hitting on white girls), Earl denies everything.
Hank and Earl end up catching up to the gang and stealing their van full of metal kegs. The kegs are empty, but a friend of Hank's analyzes the kegs themselves and concludes that they're made of a new space-age alloy that's worth millions. They follow the gang's white-haired leader Nash to a meeting, and find out that he's working with Detective McDuff. They show the proof to Washington, and he agrees to help them lure McDuff into a trap with a SWAT team providing backup.
McDuff, Nash, and the thieves show up at the location of Hank's choosing (an old fort), but the bad guys have Washington at gunpoint, and the SWAT team turns out to be working for McDuff. Hank and Earl manage to rescue Washington and kill McDuff. Washington is wounded and opts to cover them, while they run down the escaping Nash. They corner him on a precipice. Earl tries to fight him but is outmatched. Meanwhile, Hank gets into a crane and uses a wrecking ball to knock Nash off the cliff and rescue Earl.
As a reward for solving the case and revealing the corruption within LAPD, Hank gets his job back, and Earl is made his partner. Hank and his ex get back together. As they go out on their first patrol, they spot a (white) guy reaching into a car's part-open window. Earl tries to show Hank how to be courteous, helps the guy open the car door, only for a lady to run up and point out that it's her car. Earl shoots at the car, causing the thief to jump out and the car to explode.
The film contains examples of the following tropes:
- Acronym Confusion: After they're arrested, Earl tells Hank he spotted "CIA heist" written on a case folder on Washington's desk. After discovering what the thieves have been stealing, the incredulous Hank asks Earl and Washington if the CIA is really involved. Earl and Washington look at him like he's an idiot, and Washington explains that the acronym stands for Crupps International Aerospace.
- To be fair to Hank, Earl plays it off as if they're chasing some Central Intelligence Agency government conspiracy after explaining all he saw on the top of the police report was "CIA heist" and didn't mention Crupps. Also, Earl usually plays things off as if the other person is stupid when he either doesn't provide the pertinent information or discovers the information on the subject at the same time the other person does.
- Berserk Button: Earl does NOT take kindly to being called the racial slur "monkey".
- Briar Patching: A variation. After getting to prison, Hank sees every black inmate giving him murderous looks. A prison guard tells him to calm down if he doesn't want to spend time in solitary. Resigned, Hank elbows him in order to stay alive in the solitary. He's released 3 months later and sees a black inmate giving him the "throat slash" gesture. Exasperated, he punches out the guard, and walks back into the solitary to sit out the rest of his sentence.
- Buddy Cop Show: Except they're security guards at the time and spend most of that hating each other's guts. Hank is a disgraced ex-cop (who has Earl to thank for the disgraced part), while Earl is a cop-wannabe (who thinks that every white person is racist). They do become cops and buddies at the end.
- Cassandra Truth: No one believes Hank about the bumblebee, even though Earl lets it slip to the DA and the higher-up cops that he really does have an allergy to bee stings. Denise, Hank's ex, also refuses to believe such a "ridiculous" story, until she personally witnesses Earl running away from a bumblebee.
- Concealment Equals Cover: The shootout between the gang and the newly-paired-up Hank and Earl involves a lot of this, the cover frequently being bottles of soda (they are in a warehouse, after all).
- Dirty Cop: Detective McDuff turns out to be the one in charge of the heist. When Hank first attempts to get in on the investigation, he is rudely brushed off by McDuff, who insists that a "uniform" like Hank should stick to patrols.
- Played with Lieutenant Washington, who turns out to be clean in the end. When it seems for a moment that he might be dirty as well, Earl, unable to accept that a black man could be this trope, theorizes that he must have grown up in a white neighborhood.
- Joked by a black lady who claims that all cops in LA are dirty.
- Disney Villain Death: Nash's death.
- The Dragon: Nash to McDuff.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: The lady's car at the end explodes shortly after Earl puts a few bullets in it.
- Everything Is Racist: Earl is completely incapable of keeping the race card in the deck for more than two minutes. He didn't get into the academy? Racism. A cop is questioning him about him trying to get into his car in a manner that looks unquestionably like he's trying to steal it? Racism. White man dating a black woman? Racism. Trying to stop him from hitting on a white woman at an inconvenient time? Racism.
- Flashed-Badge Hijack: Played straight the first time but averted the second time. The first time, Earl flashes his security guard badge to quickly to see and intimidates a drivers ed student and instructor into getting out of the car. The second time, Hank attempts this, only to be browbeaten by the black woman in the car. They settle for riding in the back.
- Going Commando: When Hank's ex-girlfriend is examining Earl's bullet wound, Hank is annoyed to find out that Earl doesn't wear any underwear. Earl claims that he doesn't like to be constrained.
- Hassle-Free Hotwire: Averted. When they're in the bad guys' van, Hank asks Earl to hot-wire it. Earl immediately bristles at the implication that every black man is a car thief, but claims to, incidentally, know how to do that. He turns out to be terrible at it, splicing the wrong wires, and alerting the bad guys that something's wrong.
- Hollywood Restraining Order: Earl has one against Hank after the trial. After the warehouse shootout, Washington wants to put Hank back into prison for violating the restraining order, despite the fact that Hank had no idea that Earl worked in that same warehouse. After Earl remembers that he left his temporary Love Interest handcuffed in the warehouse office, he asks Washington if he could "hook a brother up" with another restraining order.
- Hypocritical Humour: For all of Earl's talk about racism, he himself is racist. Such as when he refused to help Hank reunite with his girlfriend when he found out she was black since he didn't approve of inter-racial relationships, though only if it's between a white man and a black woman.
- It's doubtful if he actually believed that, he was clearly attracted to Hank's girlfriend.
- I Call It "Vera": Earl carries a two tone fully automatic Glock 17 pistol with extended ammo, which he calls "Earl Jr."
- It's Personal: Hank wants revenge for his partner's murder.
- Jerkass: Earl. How much is he? He practically ruins the life of the cop who was trying to help him; I.E got Hank thrown in jail over a tape that looked like police brutality (it wasn't, he was trying to kill a bee and Earl is deathly allergic to bee stings), refused to tell the truth to Hank's ex due to the fact she was black, and when Hank rightly gets fed up and punches him in the face for his doucebaggery? He tracks Hank down over the slight and punches him back.
- Kangaroo Court: The court which tries Hank for Police Brutality appears to be purposely geared towards convicting him. The "jury of his peers" is mostly made up of black jurors with only one timid white guy. However, the evidence is also pretty damning, despite the fact that the tourist video doesn't actually show that it's Earl being beat up. Also, no medical experts are being called as witnesses, who should have immediately stated that the horrible bruises are not due to blows from a nightstick but bee stings. It's pretty much stated by the higher-up cops that they need a show trial to calm down the African-American community in order to avoid a race riot. The DA is initially reluctant to pursue the case. Hank does get off fairly lightly, at least according to Earl, being jailed for only 6 months.
- Laser-Guided Karma:
- At the start of the movie, Hank is contemptuous of security guards, claiming that they're all ex-cons who can't get another job. After being fired from LAPD and jailed for 6 months, guess what is the only job he can get?
- Earl likewise gets some retribution for his actions when they visit Hank's girlfriend a second time and panics at a bee attack, essentially recreating the "police brutality" when he jumps behind a couch calling for help. This finally reveals to his girlfriend that Hank was telling the truth and she punches Earl (offscreen) for his lies earlier.
- Maligned Mixed Marriage: Earl is firmly against interracial relationships... where the man is white. He himself is perfectly willing to hit on a white woman. He gets slightly better about it at the end, at least as far as Hank is concerned.
- Man in a Kilt: Earl accidentally insults McDuff's father when seeing a family photo.Earl Montgomery: Who's the Planet of the Apes looking lady in the dress?Frank McDuff: That's my father.Earl Montgomery: Handsome man.
- Minor Injury Overreaction: Earl is shot in the leg and reacts as if it's a fatal wound. Hank takes him to his nurse ex-girlfriend's house, who points out that it's barely a graze.
- Mistaken for Racist: Hank, big time, after the supposed Police Brutality incident. In fact, Hank is decidedly not a racist, but his (black) girlfriend leaves him after the incident, convinced he is.
- In fact, every white guy is automatically assumed by Earl to be a racist, especially if they do something he doesn't like or reject him from the police academy. Surely, it couldn't possibly be Earl's annoying, racist, and disrespectful attitude.
- Never My Fault: As far as Earl is concerned, nothing is ever his fault. It's the white man doing his best to keep him down.Hank: ...do you actually believe the crap that comes out of your mouth?
Earl: I'm never really sure, until I finish talking.
- Police Brutality: The main plot is kicked off when Hank is accused of brutally beating up Earl. While he did accidentally land a few hits in, he was, in fact, trying to save Earl from a bumblebee, as Earl is allergic to bee stings. Earl, however, insists that he was beaten up, and gets Hank fired from his job and jailed for 6 months. Hank's black girlfriend leaves him because of this.
- Psychopathic Man Child: Earl could definitely qualify.
- Scary Black Man:
Earl: Is it safe?Denise: Not for you it ain't!
- Any black inmates who gives Hank the "throat cut" gesture.
- Hank's girlfriend after realizing Earl lied about Hank committing police brutality after a bee flies near him.
- Sexy Secretary: The warehouse secretary Lola. She and Earl engage in some role-play with him "arresting" her for the serious crime of "filing in the dark", including her strip-searching herself to Barry White and being hand-cuffed by Earl. Unfortunately, their playtime is interrupted by Earl noticing the stand-off in the warehouse and joining in. The cops later mention finding Lola still hand-cuffed in the office, and Earl asks if Washington can "hook a brother up" with a Hollywood Restraining Order.
- Street Smart: Earl shows signs of this. He immediately deduces that the garage that Hank claims belongs to a guy he knows doesn't belong to a guy due to the fact that it's completely lacking in power tools. Also, when Hank is trying to find out which truck the bad guys rented and is struggling to describe them, Earl talks to the guy on the phone, finds out that the rental place is located in South Central, and tells the guy that the people in question were white. That's enough detail to find out the information.
- Super Window Jump: Hank pulls this off at the beginning to get to his partner, who's under fire in another part of the warehouse. He's unharmed by any shards of glass. Bonus points for actually firing at the window a few times to weaken it before jumping.
- Tattooed Crook: Hank's only clue as to the identity of his partner's killer is a tattoo on his arm. After getting out of prison, he finds out that the tattoo was a dead end in the investigation. He then personally drives around various LA tattoo parlors asking about the design, but no one seems to know. He later recognizes Nash as the killer after spotting the tattoo.
- Thermal Dissonance: Hank asks his engineer friend to cut into one of the ordinary-looking kegs to see if there's a false bottom. The engineer starts cutting into the keg with a thermal lance only for the keg to not even look darker. He touches it and determines that it's still cool. He immediately deduces that the kegs are made of a heat- and damage-resistant space-age alloy worth millions. He tells Hank to leave and take the kegs with him, as this is exactly the sort of thing someone can get killed over.
- Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Earl attempts to get into a truck only to be literally picked up by its driver, a tall, muscular black woman named Britney. After being put down, Earl takes another look at her, and immediately goes into his seduction mode. Britney has about 3-4 inches on Earl.
- Ungrateful Bastard: Earl, in spades, for letting Hank be fired and convicted for police brutality and for repeatedly refusing to clear the air about it when in reality, Hank was trying to swat a bee, which could have killed the deathly allergic Earl had it stung him.
- White Hair, Black Heart: Nash, the leader of the gang, is white-haired. He is the one who shoots Hank's former partner in the back. He's also a racist who calls Earl a "monkey".
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Earl likes to do that, especially where Hank is concerned.