BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE
**** (out of 5)
March 7, 2003
Steve Martin as PETER SANDERSON
Queen Latifah as CHARLENE MORTON
Eugene Levy as HOWIE ROSENTHAL
Jean Smart as KATE SANDERSON
Betty White as MRS. KLINE
Joan Plowright as MRS. ARNESS
Missi Pyle as ASHLEY
Directed by: ADAM SHANKMAN
BY KEVIN CARR
It’s been a very good couple of months for Queen Latifah. Not only did she shine in her role as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton in Miramax’s “Chicago” (a role which seems to have been custom tailored for her), she also received an Academy Award nomination for it. Now, she is the foil against legendary funnyman Steve Martin in the new film “Bringing Down the House.”
“Bringing Down the House” marks another step in the right direction for Martin, who spent part of the 1990s languishing in bad comedies that were neither critical nor box office successes – like “Mixed Nuts” and “Sgt. Bilko.” Steve Martin is a very different comedian and actor than he was when he was first born onto the screen as a poor, black child in Carl Reiner’s 1979 classic “The Jerk.” He has matured into a fantastic comedian for all generations.
In “Bringing Down the House,” Martin’s comic sensibilities and talents are put to use her as they were in the “Father of the Bride” movies. He has finally hit a new stride in the last few years with hysterically funny roles like this one and as the title character in the 1999 hit “Bowfinger.”
Martin plays uptight lawyer Peter Sanderson who, after a tough divorce, finally takes the plunge into dating again. He makes a blind Internet date with a woman (screen name LawyerGirl) he met in a legal chat room. She sends him a picture, in which she appears to be a classy, attractive corporate lawyer type herself.
Peter prepares for the date like a nervous 15-year old boy ready for his first high school dance. However, when he opens the door, he sees Charlene (Latifah) and quickly discovers that this is the real LawyerGirl. She even points herself out in the picture she sent Peter – as the one being arrested in the background.
Charlene is now turning Peter’s life upside down, and she won’t go away until he helps her prove her innocence for the bank robbery that landed her in jail in the first place. While Peter is trying to rid himself of Charlene, he is tapped to woo a critical corporate client, the billionaire widow Mrs. Arness (Joan Plowright).
Director Adam Shankman expertly juggles racial issues and slapping-the-knee comedy in this hilarious ride. Where many films like this fail by becoming overly serious when they touch on racial aspects, “Bringing Down the House” manages to keep the air light – even when Mrs. Arness shows up unexpectedly for dinner and Charlene must play Peter’s maid.
Another example of Shankman’s ability to keep normally politically explosive scenes funny for all comes when Peter must dress in bling bling, baggy pants and other hip-hop clothing so he can infiltrate a black night club in downtown L.A.
This scene is eerily similar to one from Warren Beatty’s celluloid atrocity “Bulworth,” but here, Martin is able to walk the walk and talk the talk without being insulting and actually being somewhat believable. Sure, he’s a long way from being the next Da Ali G, but that’s part of the fun. There’s a dance scene in which Peter joins in with the rest of the homies on the floor – and he manages to look both cool and completely un-hip a the same time.
Another comedian who is seeing a hysterical comeback to the big screen is Eugene Levy. In “Bringing Down the House,” Levy is ghetto fabulous in the role of Howie Rosenthal, the corporate lawyer who is into big black women. He hits a beautiful comic stride with the same energy as he did with the character of Jim’s Dad in the “American Pie” films.
The advertising for “Bringing Down the House” is filled with classic moments as Howie spews such out-of-context screamers as “You got me straight trippin’, boo” and “Shake it you cocoa goddess.” Fortunately, these are not the only funny lines he has, and this street-talking corporate lawyer often steals the show.
Rounding out a superb supporting cast is Missi Pyle as Peter’s ex-sister-in-law. Many film fans will recognize Pyle as Laliari the pretty alien in “Galaxy Quest.” While she plays a somewhat tired role of the Anna Nicole-inspired gold-digging future ex-wife of geriatric millionaires, she makes the part her own and provides a sexy and hysterical distraction from the rest of the film.
With enough good nature and friendly humor to still be considered a family comedy, “Bringing Down the House” also hits an edginess that will keep today’s audiences laughing.