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
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.