Bringing Down the House Review
Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin) is a lonely, overworked, recently divorced tax lawyer who seeks companionship in the legal chat rooms on the internet. There he meets a smart sassy “lawyer” Charlene, and they arrange to meet. Having spent the evening setting the right mood with music and chilled champagne the doorbell rings and Peter is face to face with Charlene the escaped convict (Queen Latifah) - who has broken out of jail to convince Peter to clear her name. Despite his protestations Charlene gradually convinces Peter to help her out, and learn a little about what's important in life along the way.
I have been a big fan of Martin's crazy humour since seeing The Jerk, his starring feature debut in 1979. His humour, at its very best, is clearly influenced by Monty Python, whilst often incorporating a kind hearted vulnerability to his characters. This makes the viewer warm to his on screen personas despite the fact they may be uptight, stupid, or self-indulgent. Think of Roxanne, The Man With Two Brains, and Bowfinger. It is the lack of any moral virtue that makes this mean spirited and spiteful movie so unlikeable. Directed by Adam Shenkman whose comedy resume sounds fabulous (George of the Jungle, Deuce Bigalow, The Wedding Planner, Boogie Nights) until you realise that for all but one of those (The Wedding Planner) he was the choreographer. If Shenkman and debut screenwriter Jason Filardi felt they had what it takes to make a comedy based on choreographing the dance scenes in Deuce Bigalow, they are sadly mistaken. Don't get me wrong, humour can be in bad taste, and push the boundaries of what is acceptable, and still be funny and endearing, just watch most of the Farrally Brothers' output to realise that. But in the case of Bringing Down The House the keepin' it real approach results in a violent and vicious cat fight, badly misjudged racist “jokes”, abduction, and the worst kind of racial stereotypes.
To give credit to the two stars Martin and Latifah, they do give it their all and the best scenes are when they indulge in pure comedy moments, for example Latifah teaching a tipsy Martin how to get the respect of a woman in the bedroom. Unfortunately a few seconds later Betty White comes in, catches their bawdy behaviour, hurls another witless racial slur, and brings the movie down again. Both Martin and Latifah are better than this, and it would have been interesting to see them together in material that better served their abilities.
Somewhat exempt from these criticisms is Eugene Levy who plays Martin's lawyer pal Howie. Howie falls for his “Coco Goddess” Charlene and spends the movie trying to hook up with her, with a series of hilarious chat up lines. The characters sincerity and warmth take away a lot of the tension that exists in the comments of the rest of the movie. Still it did $130M at the US box office so maybe it's just me and my uptight honky ass that doesn't get it.