Bringing Down the House (2003) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, some sexual humor, drug humor, and some violence
Running time: 105 min.
Cast: Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright, Jean Smart, Missi Pyle, Steve Harris
Director: Adam Shankman
Screenplay: Jason Filardi
Review published March 8, 2003
Bringing Down the House isn't so much a romantic comedy as it is a buddy movie, with all of the formulaic comic devices that the term has come to be defined as over the years. This means that we are going to get two appealing personalities who are almost exact opposites that inspire laughs when they make fun of each other's differences. Steve Martin (Novocaine, Bowfinger) and Queen Latifah (Chicago, Brown Sugar) definitely fit that mold, and one might expect this to be less-than-stellar fare given that Martin is no longer a top-shelf box office draw and Latifah hasn't been tested in a leading role to date. What you might not expect is that if Bringing Down the House is entertaining at all, it is purely through the amount of energy the two leads provide, because they deliver the laughs that the weak script just isn't able to provide.
Martin stars as Peter, a divorced tax attorney who spends much of his spare time in a large but lonely house, still a bit hung up on his ex-wife (Smart, Sweet Home Alabama). He likes to spend time in a chat room for lawyers and legal advice, where he meets a younger woman named Charlene, and soon the two chatters form a sort-of online romantic relationship. They decide to meet, and when Peter opens the door to greet her, Charlene is completely different than he ever expected, a tough Black convict who is dead-set on getting Peter to prove her innocence. Peter feels the fool, and does everything he can to keep her out of his life, while she sees Peter as her only hope for clearing her name, and will do everything to embarrass him into complying. With his efforts to win back his ex-wife and courting a billion dollar account to his firm, this isn't a good time for a tumultuous squabble, and the two form an unlikely friendship out of necessity.
Bringing Down the House is directed by Adam Shankman (A Walk to Remember, The Wedding Planner), and since he hasn't shown an ability to deliver a solidly entertaining film to date, expectations should be kept to a minimum. First-time screenwriter Jason Filardi (Drum, 17 Again) does provide for an interesting premise for a movie, but the situations are far too contrived to be believable, so we are forced to go along with more than a fair share of implausibility to eke out whatever laughs the film has to provide. On occasion, the film also delves needlessly dark in tone, with Charlene's gun-toting gangster boyfriend (Harris, Minority Report) entering the mix, providing some malignant animosity.
This brings me to another issue I have, not with the creators, but with the rating of the film, because I have to warn people who may not like their children exposed to too much sex, drugs and violence, that Bringing Down the House is probably pushing the envelope as far as it can go without getting an R rating, which if I were rating the film would give without hesitation. There's a huge helping of racially-tinged jokes throughout, lots of sexual innuendo and situations, drug use, fist-fights, an attempted murder, and even a subplot dealing with a an aborted statutory, and potential real, rape of Peter's teenage daughter. Now, I've seen far more graphic depictions of all of these things in films before, but never so much in what is supposed to be such an innocuous, light-hearted comedy.
However, as rough-and-tumble as the movie sometimes can be, it still manages to keep from falling on its face due to the aforementioned performances of Martin and Latifah, along with another funny role for Eugene Levy (American Pie 2, The Ladies Man) trying to act hip. They go all out in trying to produce laughs, no matter how much of a fool they make of themselves, and the result is some genuine belly-laughs on occasion to keep your interest and spirits up.
However, these laughs do come few and far-between, you'd need to be the most forgiving of comedy fans to not view Bringing Down the House as another misfire of a movie. Unless you are a die-hard Steve Martin fan, or just have a Eugene Levy-type love jones for Queen Latifah, this is pretty much just a film to watch when there's just nothing else out there. As far as the humor goes, this is one film that won't be "bringing down the house" at a theatre near you anytime soon.
©2003 Vince Leo