Bringing Down the House
review by Gregory Avery, 21 March 2003

Bringing Down the House seems to be popular with audiences right now for the moment when Steve Martin puts a stocking cap on his head and turns himself into a homeboy who can be as down with it as the rest of them. Limbering his way into a hip-hop club, he converses in super-coded lingo with the same goofy delicacy that he used with the lyrics to his recording of "King Tut", and he can bust a move, too, on the dance floor and send it up at the same time. There's actually not very much of this in the movie, though, and it comes, like dessert, near the very end, but the audience seems expectant and patient to wait.

Martin plays a tax attorney and divorced father who's been corresponding with someone on the Internet, and he eventually finds out that his white, blond dream girl is an African-American ex-con, played by Queen Latifah, in a series of outfits that seem to consistently emphasize her highly buxom, Rubenesque shape. During what ensues, she helps him to loosen up and not be so uptight, in exchange for which he's supposed to prove that she was wrongfully convicted and exonerate her. It's this last part that keeps turning the movie into the kind of formulaic thing that you could see at home on television for free, and there's even a point where, for several minutes, the comedy that we've been watching turns into a crime drama (one of the characters gets shot!), then flips back again (oops! no cause for alarm).

I can understand why some people have said that the movie, disappointingly, doesn't take advantage of what it has, here, with Martin and Latifah -- there are many instances where, in their scenes together, an antic, loosey-goosey energy keeps emerging in their interplay. It never really gets out, though -- for one thing, Martin's never been as funny as he can be when he has to play scenes where he's an uptight W.A.S.P. Some of the humor in the film is also dubious, as well: Oh, look, there's a black woman in the white-run law office! There's a black woman at the country club! My, oh, my! This is the type of thing I'd expect to see in a Joan Davis sitcom from the 'Fifties, but, fortunately, Queen Latifah never looks foolish and never loses her dignity, even in a scene where she has to serve dinner to a rich matron played by Joan Plowright, whose character suddenly bursts into singing a "Negro spiritual" heard during her childhood. (And, somehow, Plowright manages to still make it funny.)

But the business of Eugene Levy's character panting after Latifah's and acting like she's the red-hot mama he's been waiting for all his life never struck me as being as amusing as the filmmakers wanted it to be. (I will lightly pass over Betty White's scenes as a seemingly dotty woman who says precociously ugly things about people of color, and people who are non-heterosexuals, under her breath. Please.) And I found myself surprisingly disconcerted during one scene where Latifah has to b-slap a snooty white woman, and it turns into a bone-crunching, body-thwacking brawl that goes on and on, and on some more. And it's supposed to be funny. Physical humor of the most outré type has been used in movies for a hundred years, now, but a peculiar sort of viciousness briefly emerges in this scene that makes the facade of comedy fall away and causes you to wonder if something else altogether is being worked-out, from under the surface, here. The movie no longer looks like some frothy little thing that shows that race and culture can cross-blend and happily coexist. The line between daring humor and embarrassing ugliness is crossed one too many times for comfort, and it diminishes the film.

Directed by:
Adam Shankman

Steve Martin
Queen Latifah
Eugene Levy
Kimberly J. Brown
Angus T. Jones
Betty White
Joan Plowright

Written by:
Jason Filardi

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.






  Copyright © 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.