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"Bringing Down the House" Movie Review
Not as Funny as it is Offensive

Queen Latifah and Steve Martin in "Bringing Down the House."
©2003 Touchstone Pictures - All Rights Reserved

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“Bringing Down the House” telegraphs every joke before the actor hits the punchline but that's the least of the movie's problems. The film has some funny moments, but there are too many jokes that are just plain uncomfortable. Because every ethnic stereotype is used as a source of amusement, the scenes that are supposed to make you laugh are the scenes that actually make you cringe. It's got cracks about Latinos only being allowed in a rich neighborhood if they have a leaf-blower in their hands, Steve Martin's character for some strange reason has a pink maid outfit on hand that fits Queen Latifah (where did that come from?), and every person of color speaks slang and it's up to a white guy to teach them how to speak proper English.

I get it's a comedy, I totally understand the screenwriter's intentions, but the movie gets stuck in a seemingly never-ending cycle of pointless, recycled racial jokes and ethnic stereotypes.

As far as the acting goes, Steve Martin hams it up while Queen Latifah stifles that part of herself that earned her an Academy Award nomination. There had to be a reason she signed on to this film but for the life of me, I can't come up with a single valid excuse. Her talent is hidden behind tasteless jokes and bad writing. Martin plays the uptight white guy well, and is a gamer for even trying to get jiggy in a club scene surrounded by - surprise - more stereotypical characters. It's pretty much left to Eugene Levy to try and hold the whole mishmash together. Try as he might, there's not much he can do with such a one-dimensional role.

What plot there is revolves around tax lawyer, Peter Sanderson, and his encounter with a woman he met over the Internet. Expecting a tall blonde lawyer type, when Charlene (Queen Latifah) shows up fresh out of jail and decidedly not a tall blonde, he's not in the least bit pleased. (Someone you met over the Internet turns out not to be the person they represented themself to be? Imagine that. What a novel idea.) Worming her way into his life, she shows him how to win back his estranged wife, relate to his kids, and score a big account all while fighting to clear her record of a crime she claims she didn't commit. Oh yeah, she also serves up a delicious homecooked dinner - while wearing the aforementioned pink maid outfit - to a rich snob, Mrs. Arness (Joan Plowright) who dresses her dog, William Shakespeare, in embarrassing outfits and seats him at dinner tables. I'm only throwing in this mention of the dog because he's my favorite part of the movie. The dog doesn't do anything to further stereotypes and you've got to embrace the one character in the film who shows a little integrity.

There were a few scenes that had the preview audience laughing out loud, but those were few and far between and definitely not enough to overcome the general feeling of uneasiness you get from most of the dialogue. You'd have to be a huge Steve Martin or Queen Latifah fan to be entertained by this movie, and those feelings alone probably won't be enough to endear it to you.

Maybe if at some point the film turned itself around and pointed out just how stupid these stereotypes were, then I'd find it more palatable. Things don't have to be PC, but they shouldn't actively further racial stereotypes. Like I said, I enjoyed the dog. Otherwise, “Bringing Down the House” is a forgettable waste of time and talent.

Overall Grade: D+

"Bringing Down the House" is rated PG-13 for language, sexual humor and drug material.

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