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Bringing Down the House (A Movie Review)

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

Bringing Down the House

Bringing Down the House


Starring Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright, Jean Smart, Kimberly J. Brown, Angus T. Jones, Missi Pyle, Michael Rosenbaum, Betty White, Steve White, Michael Ensign, Anne Fletcher, Jim Haynie, Seth Howard and Victor Webster.

Screenplay by Jason Filardi.

Directed by Adam Shankman.

Distributed by Touchstone Pictures.  105 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

There have been odder pairings in movie history than Steve Martin and Queen Latifah, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.  Good for them for thinking of it, because they work together like a charm. 

Martin plays Peter Sanderson, the whitest, most buttoned-down attorney ever.  Devastated by his wife leaving him, he tries to find solace in an internet chat room for lawyers.  He meets Charlene Morton online and decides to attempt a date for the first time since becoming newly single. 

Not surprisingly, Martin assumes that the woman he is talking to is the WASP goddess in the foreground of the picture, not the yelling black prisoner in the background.  So he is shocked when he opens the door and finds buxom mama Queen Latifah on the other side.

Martin tries to get rid of her immediately, but she refuses to go until he works with her to get her record expunged.  Whenever Martin denies her, Latifah goes out of her way to embarrass him in front of his uptight acquaintances, which always gets him back in line for her.  As they get to know each other, they gain a grudging respect for each other, and then an actual friendship is born.

Martin is superb in his goofy mode as a man finally coming to grips with his feeling and his own body.  The part is a wonderfully physical one for Martin, reminiscent of some of his early roles like All Of Me and The Man With Two Brains.  You can literally see the repression trying to make its way out of his body, it is a slapstick tour de force. 

Latifah is fantastic as a woman who has a chameleon-like ability be any type of person for any different situation.  Between this film and her recent stand-out supporting role in Chicago, Latifah’s acting career… which has been up and down to be charitable… looks like it will finally take off.

Eugene Levy is hysterical as Martin’s best friend, who likes that brown sugar and a little bounce in his booty and falls for Latifah hard. 

The other supporting roles are less impressive. Dame Joan Plowright is kind of wasted as a dowdy old rich southern belle who is still nostalgic for the Jim Crow days.  Steve Harris (who is so electric in The Practice) is given the role of a generic gang-banger.  Betty White seems to be channeling Mrs. Kravitz, the nosy neighbor from Bewitched, if Mrs. Kravitz was a bigot.  Missi Pyle is totally degraded as a gold-digging sister-in-law, particularly in a startlingly misjudged catfight with Latifah.

Surprisingly for a movie made by such clever people and with such good intentions, it does trade in certain racial stereotypes; all the whites in this film are repressed, out of touch with their feelings and just a little (or a lot) bigoted and all the blacks are bordering on criminals. 

That is taking the film a lot too seriously, though, Bringing Down the House is meant to be a good-hearted romp where two very different people learn to like and respect each other.  In this context, the film is a complete success.  (3/03)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2003 All rights reserved. Posted: March 30, 2003.

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