Bringing Down The House

Except for that fleeting moment in “Silver Streak” where Richard Pryor teaches Gene Wilder how to be black, I’ve never found the idea of uptight white people getting “Jiggy” with it very funny. In fact, I find the idea offensive, and cringe whenever I see rappers like Vanilla Ice and Eminem, or those “out of control” teens on Jenny Jones, acting like brothers and sisters.

“Bringing Down The House,” a culture clash, odd couple comedy starring Steve Martin as an uptight Los Angeles lawyer whose anal-retentive lifestyle is rocked by the arrival of Queen Latifah, not only manages to make fun of both races, but does so without remorse. Oh sure you’ll laugh as the Queen transforms Martin into a hip hop wannabe, but it’s not feel-good laughter. It’s nervous laughter, like when someone pants your best friend in the high school quad during lunch. You may laugh, but you know you’ll feel bad later.

I liked “Bringing Down the House” the first time I saw it, when it was called “Houseguest” and starred the late Phil Hartman (the king of anal-retentive characters) as a man whose white suburban lifestyle is interrupted by the arrival of con man on the run Sinbad. The fact that both films come from the Disney factory, and that first time writer Jason Filardi doesn’t even try to conceal that he is liberally borrowing from the first film, should be warning enough to stay away from this mess.

As someone who admires Queen Latifah as an actress (she was explosive in “Set It Off” and absolutely endearing in “Living Out Loud), it’s sad to see her talents wasted in a film she not only stars in, but also helped produce. Martin doesn’t bring much to the party, going from a board-up- his-butt lawyer who is so busy he constantly ignores and disappoints his children and ex-wife, to a variation of his wild and crazy guy from “Saturday Night Live.” The transformation is so artificial and eventually banal you want to shoot him and put him out of his and our misery.

The contrivances used to bring the two together (an Internet chat room where both misrepresent themselves, she more than he) and keep them together (she’s a con who needs him to get her off, but not in the ways you would expect for a romantic comedy) are shallow and underdeveloped. Director Adam Shankman (The Wedding Planner) plays the comedy so broad that it not only becomes offensive, it becomes lame. Tossing the usually durable Eugene Levy into the mix as Martin’s best friend who talks the talk does little to help matters.

Martin seems to be going through the motions and nothing more. Betty White pops up every now and then as the uptight, prejudiced neighbor who believes anyone of color should have a leaf blower in their hand. “Bringing Down The House” manages to stereotype almost everyone and everything.


Culture clash comedy crashes and burns


Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright, Jean Smart, Betty White. Directed by Adam Shankman. Rated PG-13. 105 Minutes.


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