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Want to hear something funnier than any joke in Bringing Down the House?
Queen Latifah has more Oscar nominations than Steve Martin, arguably
America's finest and most consistently funny comedic actor. That Martin has
been reduced to performing in junk like House is a grand injustice, albeit
one carefully timed to coincide with his hosting of the Oscars in a couple
of weeks. The film's premise sounds like a bad idea for a television pilot,
let alone a feature-length film.
House is incredibly offensive for two different reasons (and that doesn't
even take into consideration the endless racial jokes steeped in the worst
possible stereotypes, which I actually found quite funny). First, it's
another one of these pictures in which a middle-aged white guy with a
messed-up life is visited by a mysterious/magical Negro who shows him the
light - after shuckin' and jivin' for an hour and a half, of course. House
is also the latest film to make people laugh by taking an uptight cracker
and forcing him to become Malibu rapper Brad Gluckman from the Jamie Kennedy
Experiment. How many more times is this supposed to be funny? And wasn't
it offensive back when white people did the same thing with shoe polish on
their faces? If you dig this kind of thing, stay tuned for the rest of
Hollywood's "Post-Black History Month Blowout," which runs throughout March
and culminates with Chris Rock's Head of State.
If you've seen the trailer for House, you already know the premise (and can
probably figure out the ending without spending money or time watching the
whole stupid thing). Peter Sanderson (Martin, Novocaine) is a tax attorney
whose wife (Jean Smart, TV's The In-Laws) ditched him because he was more
dedicated to his job than his family. Bored and lonely, Peter trolls for
tail in online chatrooms, eventually striking up a relationship with a woman
he assumes is a slim blonde lawyer. When Peter sets up a date with
Charlene, he opens the door to discover she's a black ex-con who has to make
two trips when she hauls ass (Latifah, Chicago). Could this possibly be
worse than finding out your online dream girl is the owner of a bookstore
you're about to muscle out of business?
When a surprised Peter tries to hurry Charlene out the door, she blackmails
him into helping her expunge an armed robbery charge from her record. If
Peter doesn't cooperate, Charlene makes it clear she'll throw a scene that
will rile his racist neighbor (Betty White), who also happens to be the
sister of his boss. Meanwhile, Peter also has to contend with landing a
huge, equally racist client (Joan Plowright, Tea With Mussolini), as well as
the young turk coworker (Michael Rosenbaum, Smallville) trying to steal the
business for himself. And there's also unresolved issues with his ex, and
the idea that his cracker kids (Tumbleweeds' Kimberly J. Brown and The
Rookie's Angus T. Jones) will be exposed to that scary ghetto element
Charlene brings into his home.
Blackmail is hilarious, isn't it? If it's not, I'm sure Latifah dressed as
Mrs. Butterworth will tickle your funny bone (Peter has to pass Charlene off
as his nanny/maid). If that doesn't float your boat, I'm sure you'll get a
kick out of date rape, drug use, or a terrified Betty White shrieking, "I
thought I heard Negroes!" All this, and House still manages to work in a
diarrhea gag, plus a scene where Plowright's character makes two new black
friends over a fatty.
That said, I was mildly entertained by House, specifically Martin's
performance, at least for a while, but after 90 minutes it's just plain
embarrassing, as the film stops short only of having Martin refer to Smart
as his "baby mama." I'm not sure who I felt sorrier for: The people who
were howling at the screen and rolling around in the aisles like they were
at a Def Jam comedy show, or the people who sat there stone-faced because
they recognized House as insulting crap. Here's a hint: The ones laughing
as they say, "You got me straight trippin', boo," on the way out of the
theatre don't realize they're making fun of themselves. Another winner from
director Adam Shankman, who apparently isn't allowed to make a movie without
a non-diva lead (see The Wedding Planner with J.Lo and A Walk To Remember
with Mandy Moore).
1:45 - PG-13 for language, sexual humor and drug material
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