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Bringing Down The House (PG-13)
Official Site
Director: Adam Shankman
Producers: Ashok Amritraj, David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman
Written by: Jason Filardi
Cast: Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright, Jean Smart, Kimberly J. Brown, Michael Rosenbaum, Betty White

Rating: out of 5

The Jerk. All Of Me. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. In Steve Martin’s long and illustrious career he has shown sheer genius in the form of unforgettable comedic characters. If there was an award for funniest white guy of the past 30 years, Steve Martin would definitely be among the top five nominees. In recent years, however, we have witnessed a steady decline from his performance in some very bland comedies—Bowfinger, Sgt. Bilko, and now, Bringing Down The House. For whatever reason Mr. Martin has been unable to pull out a true winner since Father Of The Bride. At some point Steve Martin of the 1970s and ’80s took a sharp turn and parted from Steve Martin of the ’90s and beyond. He might be the biggest case for someone quitting while they are ahead in film history, but alas he did not and we are left with Bringing Down The House.

Peter Sanderson (Martin) is the stereotypical lawyer father who works too much and is resented for it by his ex-wife and kids. To try to forget about his ex (Smart), whom he still loves, Peter decides to try a blind Internet date with a young woman named Charlene whom he’s been chatting with online and who claims to be a lawyer. Disaster strikes when Charlene Morton (Latifah) shows up, fresh out of prison and ghetto fabulous. She confesses that she is the one he has been chatting with and though she has already served her time she wants Peter’s help in expunging her record and proving her innocence. Peter decides that helping her out will be the quickest way to get her out of his home and he begrudgingly agrees. Things get exponentially worse when Peter is faced with landing a huge, uptown client (Plowright) for his firm. Quickly Peter discovers that hiding Charlene from his white and uptight family, neighbors, and new client is more than he can handle. But somewhere in the madness Charlene teaches Peter that there’s more to life than work and clients and together they get their lives back on track.

The biggest problem with House is its lack of originality. This is a very cookie-cutter comedy, the type that Hollywood spews out every six months or so. House is basically Liar Liar, but littered with racial humor that only goes so far. Throwing the (extreme) stereotypical white guy and black girl together is going to produce some decent gags, but nothing that we couldn’t have thought up ourselves. Seeing Steve Martin dress up and talk ghetto in the black club made me cringe more than it made me laugh. And it’s not just the racial humor that drags this movie down. How many times are we going to be subjected to the old “slipping the laxative in someone’s food” gag before we have to start petitioning?

The two leads do little to save this film, but at least some humor could be salvaged by Eugene Levy’s scenes. Levy seems to be on a bit of a roll with his performances in Christopher Guest’s and American Pie films recently and he doesn’t stop here. He plays Peter’s law partner and friend with a huge case of jungle fever. Listening to him spout out ebonic drivel in an attempt to win Charlene is somewhat hilarious. Also Betty White is very funny in her brief scenes as Peter’s openly racist neighbor.

Not everything about House was bad. It definitely means well and there is a weak story behind it to keep one somewhat interested, but the jokes are lame and recycled. I was perplexed when the audience I saw the film with roared with laughter at almost every comedic scene. As I sat there I thought “Maybe I’m just the tight-assed white guy this movie is preaching against,” but then the scene where Charlene helps Peter with his sex life began and I was reaffirmed in my disapproving confidence. 

The saddest thing about House is watching Steve Martin’s continuous freefall from grace. There was a time when Martin would have read this script and laughed (and not because it was funny). Now, for whatever reason he has convinced himself that movies of this nature are good enough for him. Go figure.

Bottom line: This film tries desperately to make you feel good and to make you laugh, but the only thing Bringing Down The House did was make me long for The Jerk.

—Corey Herrick


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