Whoever it was at Touchstone Pictures who had the bright idea of pairing
together outrageous odd couple Steve Martin (2001's "Novocaine") and
Queen Latifah (2002's "Chicago") for a sorta-kinda romantic comedy--with
an emphasis on the 'comedy' aspect--should be promoted. "Bringing
Down the House" is inconsequential and about as frothy and long-lasting
as whipped cream, but there is no denying how very entertaining and
funny it oftentimes is. At the very least, it's certainly a whole
lot better than the idiotic "Old School."
When lonely, divorced lawyer Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin) starts
an Internet relationship with whom he has been led to believe is also
a beautiful, blonde lawyer, he gets far more than he bargained for
when the black, voluptuous Charlene Morton (Queen Latifah) shows up
at his door. It seems Charlene has just gotten out of jail for an
armed robbery charge she says she didn't commit, and wants Peter to
use his legal expertise to expunge her faulty record.
At first reluctant to help her out, Peter finds himself unable to
say no, as the sassy, straight-forward Charlene invades his home,
wins over his children, Sarah (Kimberly J. Brown) and Georgey (Angus
T. Jones), and attracts the amorous attention of colleague Howie (Eugene
Levy). Amidst all of the havoc, Peter and Charlene begin a sweet friendship,
with her helping him to loosen up and see that he is still in love
with his ex-wife, Kate (Jean Smart).
Directed by Adam Shankman (2002's "A Walk to Remember"), "Bringing
Down the House" is zany and high-spirited. While not every comedic
bit hits a veritable home run, there are enough genuine laughs to
keep things fun and undemanding. For a PG-13-rated film, some of the
material is refreshingly un-PC and ballsy, such as the appearance
of Peter's insanely racist neighbor (a funny, if underused, Betty
White), and an elderly client (a delightful Joan Plowright) who thinks
nothing of singing offensive slave songs in front of Charlene and getting high off pot.
It has been a while since Steve Martin has been given a comedic role
worthy of his effortless talents, but he is in top form as the put-upon
Peter Sanderson. His ghetto impression in an African American nightclub
is priceless. As fab as Martin is, however, Queen Latifah steals the
film from underneath the entire cast. Latifah, Oscar-nominated for
"Chicago," is finally getting the respect she deserves as an actress,
and her sexy, hilarious portrayal of free-spirit Charlene is the best
role she has ever had. Hopefully more work will come from this, because
the charismatic Latifah turns out to have a genuine comic gift that cannot be denied.
For all of its inspired gags and writing, "Bringing Down the House"
is better for its individual scenes and setups than it is for its
story. The premise is of the throwaway variety, a mere excuse to let
Steve Martin and Queen Latifah loose, doing what they do best. Their
inspired turns alone carry "Bringing Down the House" to the finish
line with ease, even if its lasting impression doesn't stick around
for much longer than the length of the end credits.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman