Volume 96, Issue 85
Wednesday, March 12, 2003

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MOVIE REVIEW: Bringing Down the House

Martin, Latifah fail to Bring Down the House

Bringing Down the House
Starring: Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy
Directed by: Adam Shankman

By Pierre Hamilton
Gazette Staff

Bringing Down the House is a "fish out of water" comedy that you'll want to cast back into the ocean.

Bringing is the newest incarnation of a long-running joke in popular culture: the fish out of water scenario, or in this case, the ghetto-girl-in-upper-middle-class-America film. From start to finish, the film reaffirms every negative stereotype of African-Americans, while also illustrating their positive attributes: their closeness with teenagers and usefulness to hard-working white people who have forgotten how to live.

Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin), a 49-year-old divorced tax lawyer, mistakenly thinks Charlene Morton (Queen Latifah), a convicted felon, is a white, attractive lawyer. Howie Rosenthal (Eugene Levy) is Peter's Jewish sidekick who's got a thing for Nubian goddesses.

When Charlene breaks out of jail to meet her online chat buddy (Martin), Peter is forced into keeping her around after she threatens to alert his employers and the exclusively "white" suburban neighborhood of their non-existent love child. In the morning, he destroys all evidence of their online discussions and escorts her out of his home.

When he returns home with his two kids, Charlene has thrown a block party in his house and invited all the homeboys and girls for some gambling, boozing and straight-up thugging. While Martin is having problems relating to his kids, they quickly gravitate towards Latifah and the hood lifestyle. Throughout the rest of the film, Latifah reprises the role of the lovable black mammy in an attempt to reunite Martin and his estranged family.

The humour in this film (if you manage to laugh) will make you self-conscious enough to look around the theatre to see who you're sitting beside. With original Golden Girl Betty White delivering well-crafted dialogue like, "I thought I heard some Negro" or telling Martin's son that he should cut his hair because he looks like a "fag," the film presents a continuous stream of racially and sexually-motivated humour.

In a scene better suited for women's wrestling, the script makes use of kitschy pop culture references to Tae-Bo and The Matrix, as Charlene squares off against Peter's narrow-minded sister-in-law, Ashley (Missi Pyle), in the washroom of a posh golf club. A full-figured Charlene quickly asserts her physical prowess over the skinny Ashley, who, in a later scene, explains how she lives in fear of gang bangers.

Directed by Adam Shankman (The Wedding Planner), Bringing is entertaining if only to see how Latifah, Martin and Levy play around with the stereotypical images of whites and blacks in present-day America.

Martin is right on top of his game, especially when he ventures into the dangerous nightclub "DownLo," where his performance as a "down" b-boy will garner a free ghetto pass or leave him face down in the alleyway. Levy steals almost every scene as he spits game in Ebonics, in an attempt to court Charlene.

Latifah, recently nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in Chicago, takes a step backwards with this role, which calls upon her "extensive" knowledge of the ghetto and slave history. It's funny, just not "ha ha" funny.

Bringing Down the House is a lacklustre film with a star-studded cast – a film rife with stereotypes and better set aside for one of those Blockbuster nights. Leaving the movie theatre, you may feel the familiar twinge of déja vu: this movie was better the first time when it was called Houseguest and starred Phil Hartman and everybody's favourite pirate, Sinbad.


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