Bringing Down the House

on March 07, 2003 by Tim Cogshell
Despite the fact that it is pretty damn funny by-the-bit, there's something oddly uncomfortable about the Steve Martin/Queen Latifah comedy "Bringing Down the House." For that matter, there's something funny yet oddly uncomfortable about the phrase "Steve Martin/Queen Latifah comedy." It seems like a good idea but turns out only to be so-so.

The movie treads on the idea that white people and black people live in wholly disparate worlds, with different languages, aspirations and hair care products. Except for the hair care products, this really isn't true anymore. Which may be the problem. Latifah plays Charlene, an escaped bank robber and hood rat who claims she didn't do it. We never know much more about her character than that. Martin plays Peter Sanderson, the whitest man in America. He's a divorced, workaholic tax lawyer, estranged from his family. He's liberal and nice but not exactly down with the homegirls. Through a deceptive Internet relationship they become involved, and race disparity jokes ensue. This ought to be funny, and in the more outrageous moments of the movie it is, but in the present zeitgeist, with hip-hop selling as well among suburban white kids as it does inner-city kids and self-proclaimed rap gangstas lead the box office charts as action heroes--not to mention the fact that the actual Secretary of State is a brotha who has more in common with George Bush Jr. than Martin Luther King Jr., it's kinda lame. Sure, watching Martin and Latifah exchange quips and barbs about tight butts and hair-weaves draws a laugh, and hearing Eugene Levy wax on about "losing his pimp-hand and getting twisted up in the game" is just plain hysterical. But overall, the jokes in "Bringing Down the House" don't play because they are out of step with the realities of the world. The distance between black and white culture has contracted in the last decade or two, thus leaving most of the jokes in "Bringing Down the House" playing kinda whack. If you know what that means, it proves the point. This is an early '80s Whoopi Goldberg movie. As for the storyline, turns out Charlene didn't do it and that white people and black people can learn a lot from each other. Though, apparently, white people can learn more. Starring Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright and Jean Smart. Directed by Adam Shankman. Written by Jason Filardi. Produced by Ashok Amritraj and David Hoberman. A Buena Vista release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for language, sexual humor and drug material. Running time: 104 min

Tags: family comedy, prison, buddy comedy, Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Adam Shankman, Jason Filardi, Ashok Amritaj, Joan Plowright, Jean Smart

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