Bringing Down The House

2003, Movie, PG-13, 105 mins


This amusing comedy of modern manners pairs two talented actors — Steve Martin and Queen Latifah — in a series of outrageous situations and generally manages to walk the thin line between poking fun at racial stereotypes and reinforcing them. Divorced, workaholic tax lawyer Peter (Martin) is trying to solidify his standing at work by landing an account with wealthy and high-maintenance coffee heiress Mrs. Arness (Joan Plowright). He's also attempting to improve his social life by planning a blind date with a female attorney he met on the Internet. But the blonde barrister with whom he's been chatting turns out to be Charlene (Latifah), a brassy escaped convict who wants him to help her with her appeal. Charlene, who doesn't know the meaning of the word "no," turns Peter's meticulously organized life upside down despite repeated attempts to get rid of her. Peter finally agrees to help Charlene with her case, and she reluctantly agrees to play nanny to his kids so he's free to woo the uptight and deeply bigoted Mrs. Arness. Naturally, these opposites attract despite their differences: Charlene tries to help make Peter hip and offers tips on what women really want, while Peter tries to prove her innocence and convince her that she doesn't have to use slang in order to communicate. Martin and Latifah have great chemistry, which is part of the reason his scenes without her seem generic (the other part is that they are). Peter's bid to win back the affections of his ex-wife and kids fall utterly flat; there's a subplot reminiscent of MRS. DOUBTFIRE and Martin's bumbling but well-meaning dad is a character who's been done better in FATHER OF THE BRIDE and PARENTHOOD. Choreographer-turned-director Adam Shankman (THE WEDDING PLANNER) and screenwriter Jason Filardi should have spent more time focusing on relationships and less stooping to low-brow physical comedy, especially when it involves laxatives. Shankman relies heavily on the terrific supporting cast for laughs, and he should be eternally grateful that they come through more often than they don't. Extra props to Eugene Levy as Howie, who's fascinated by Charlene's plus-sized curves and tries to impress her with his mastery of slang; Betty White, who plays a nosy racist neighbor; Missi Pyle as Peter's Tae Bo-obsessed, gold-digging former sister-in-law; and grande dame Plowright, with her French bulldog and narrow-minded views, which a few tokes from a joint broaden considerably. leave a comment --Angel Cohn

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