BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE
A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2003 David N. Butterworth
** (out of ****)
Tired, tacky, and not terribly funny, "Bringing Down the House" starts
with a good idea, that of putting Oscar® host Steve Martin and Oscar nominee
Queen Latifah ("Chicago") in the same movie together, and goes downhill from
The premise is that Martin's character, a lonely, recently separated tax
attorney, meets "lawyer-girl" in an Internet chat room and arranges a blind
date after she e-mails him a photograph of herself. But guess what? She's
not the shapely blonde in the foreground, she's the less shapely brunette
busted in the background. Ha ha. Feeling slighted by his immediate turn of
face, Charlene proceeds to make Peter's life a living hell until, that is,
start to get along.
All of this is in the trailer. The trailer is better than the actual
because it's shorter, tighter, and contains almost all of the funny parts (and
there aren't that many of those to begin with). In addition to being
unfunny "Bringing Down the House" features poor writing, lackluster direction,
and an insipid music score (for starters). It presumes white people talking
like black people to be funny. Worse still, it presumes white people talking
like black people to be original, and they were talking jive as far back as
"Airplane!" (and probably a lot earlier than that!).
Latifah brightens up the proceedings immeasurably though, bringing class
and sass to an otherwise pedestrian production. Martin is mediocre but it's
hardly his fault; the script gives him nothing to do (except for one silly
in which he hits the dance clubs dressed like Ja Rule and talking gangsta
Eugene Levy, as Peter's associate, gets to talk like an African-American also
("you got me straight trippin', boo"). There are a lot of honkies talking
in this movie, that's a given.
To counteract all this Latifah sports her Sunday best Queen's English for
all of 15 seconds, but it's unnecessary because Joan Plowright is on hand to
sport some more. She's a client of Peter's with a French bulldog. A racist
one (the client that is, not the dog). Racist like Betty White's neighborly
Mrs. Kline, who makes Bill Maher seem politically correct. Jean Smart,
terrific, plays Peter's estranged wife Kate and Missi Pyle turns in an eye
performance as his vengeful sister-in-law, who has an outrageous,
locker room catfight with Latifah.
The performances, then, are uniformly good but the material is thin thin
thin, the tone uneven (not to mention offensive in its blatant racial
and it's all just so darned unoriginal it hurts. You can usually tell how
a film is going to be from its initial few moments. "Bringing Down the House"
starts with a grainy close-up of typed text on a computer screen as Peter
a message to Charlene. This opening sequence is clichéd, simplistic, and
out of focus like, it turns out, the rest of the movie.
David N. Butterworth
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