Reviewed by: Megan Basham
Starring: Queen Latifah, Steve Martin, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright, Missi Pyle | Directed by: Adam Shankman | Produced by: Ashok Amritraj, David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman | Written by: Jason Filardi | Distributor: Touchstone Pictures
Can Steve Martin revive his career in this cross-cultural comedy? Can he do it without sinking to a rash of WB-worthy formulas? Is racism even funny? These are the questions posed throughout the new Steve Martin, Queen Latifah comedy, “Bringing Down the House.”
Martin plays Peter Sanderson, a divorced workaholic tax attorney who, though still in love with his ex-wife (Jean Smart), has become so lonely, he develops a online relationship with a woman he believes to be a blonde lawyer. When the day to meet his cyber-love face to face finally arrives, Sanderson finds he got more than he’d bargained for. Turns out he was duped by recently released ex-con Charlene (Queen Latifah), who latches on to Sanderson in an effort to get her faulty record expunged.
Much of the comedy in this film plays off the now hackneyed notion that white men can’t, well, do anything even remotely cool. Watching Martin fumble between upper-class superiority and pathetic attempts to fit in with the homies tires pretty quickly. Then there’s the other side of that comedy coin: the somewhat bigoted clich that all rich, white people are racists. Almost everyone in Sanderson’s life, from his nosey neighbor Betty White to his Billionaire Heiress client, display a level of racism not seen since the South tried to secede. Certainly people with entrenched prejudices still exist, but it is hard to buy, as this movie suggests, that such a deep-seated condition could be cured simply by smoking a joint with the home-boys. Add to that numerous other scenes of alcohol and drug abuse, and we have a PG-13 rating that should once again be called into question.
For her part, Queen Latifa turns in an engaging performance as the conniving, but good-hearted Charlene. However, an underlying message concerning her relationship with Sanderson’s kids should have parents a little ruffled. For example, in one scene, Charlene teaches Sanderson’s slow-learning seven-year-old how to read using a pornographic magazine. Later we see her oh-so wisely advising Sanderson not to punish his daughter after she has lied to him, snuck out to party flowing with alcohol and ecstasy, and generally put herself in harms way. Instead of firmly, but lovingly punishing her as a responsible father should, Sanderson takes Charlene’s advice and asks his daughter to “share everything with him,” thereby becoming that paragon of the divorced parent, friend rather than father so she’ll think he’s cool.
The movie does contain a few genuinely funny moments, most of which involve Eugene Levy as Sanderson’s wannabe gangster partner and would-be suitor to Charlene. But other than that, most of “Bringing Down the House”’s humor either makes you want to yawn or head out for a civil rights rally.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: One point not mentioned above is the scene when Queen L. jumps on top of Steve Martin and acts as if she is having sex with him on the couch fully clothed. She tells Steve Martian’s character that this is what women want.Year of Release—2003
For a deeper understanding of the fallacy of racism and how, according to the Bible, all races come from Noah and his three sons, click here.