Bringing Down the House
Grade: C
Year: 2003
Director: Adam Shankman
Writer: Jason Filardi
Genre: Comedy
Rated: PG-13

I've always said Queen Latifah was an enjoyable on-screen presence. Ever since "Brown Sugar," I have been waiting to see Latifah get a more significant role. In "Bringing Down the House," Latifah is given the chance to shine, but the movie's plot is too simple and too restrictive for her to break through and excel.

"Bringing Down the House" has one enjoyable part to it; seeing Steve Martin and Queen Latifah 'get down' together. However, the novelty soon wears thin. It's another 'white integrates with black' movie, and one of several slated to come out this year. How long will it be before seeing a white person pretending to be black won't be considered funny? It works when used sparingly, but it shouldn't be the base for the plot.

Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin) is a wealthy tax lawyer going through rough times in and out of the home. He is too busy to spend time with his wife and kids, which led to his divorce from his wife, Kate (Jean Smart). Looking to fill the void in his life, Peter finds a woman on the internet and sets up a date with her. In the picture, the woman is a normal looking white woman, perfect for Steven. His colleague and best friend, Howie, (Eugene Levy) thinks she is too skinny.

Soon enough, Charlene arrives at Peter's house. With two glasses of champagne in his hand, Peter is ready to meet his new date. When he opens the door, Peter is shocked to find out that Charlene is really a black woman who just served time for doing; oh, I don't know, some crime that she didn't commit. Anyway, Peter is not pleased.

This movie stretches the racism theme beyond its limits. Every white character (all of 'em) is racist. Peter's colleagues, family, neighbors, and even himself don't associate with minorities. Only Howie is instantly attracted to Charlene, as there is always one and only one character in a movie attracted to Latifah's character.

"Bringing Down the House" is funny only before you get tired of seeing Steve Martin react to Queen Latifah's shenanigans, and for me, I got tired quickly. Peter tries to get Charlene to leave his home immediately, but she refuses to leave until he clears her record. Peter finally agrees to work on her case in order to get Charlene out of his life.

When Peter's real clients and neighbors spot Charlene around him, he makes an excuse as to why she's there. When Peter and Charlene arrive home from wherever they last were, Peter has to secretly get Charlene in the house without his neighbor across the street seeing her. His neighbor, a relative to Peter's boss, wouldn't expect to see a Latino in the neighborhood without a leaf blower.

But Charlene finally finds her place in the Sanderson home. Steve's kids adore her, and Charlene eventually gets Martin to become more of a family man again, so he can get back with his ex-wife. She also teaches him other valuable life-lessons on how blacks are just like whites, the kind of lessons that need to be taught to a white person living during the civil rights era.

When she isn't explaining to Peter that her use of the language is still English, she is rescuing the family daughter from evil boyfriends and is teaching the son how to read. When she isn't working with Peter on her case, she is cooking fabulous dinners for clients who won't appreciate them.

While prejudice is exaggerated in the movie, it still teaches us a sour lesson. Had Charlene been white when she showed up at Peter's house the first day they met, they would have formed a relationship. But because Charlene's black, her purpose is to be the nanny and get Peter back together with his wife.

Some of the humor is funny, but like I said it gets tiresome, quickly. The subplot is ridiculous, as Peter soon finds himself dealing with angry ex-boyfriends and conspiracies that make no sense. This movie could have been so much more enjoyable had Charlene been a real convict, out to prove that she can be a good citizen, again.

"Bringing Down the House" is more stupid than funny; in one scene, one of Peter's elderly/English/racist clients is staying for dinner, and begins to sing a song about slavery and how they won't be set free. As you can imagine, this doesn't please Charlene. And the pranks begin, starting with what is put into the food.

I laughed a few times, but I never found myself clutching my stomach. The tears never came. "Bringing Down the House" is just a mediocre comedy at best, not nearly as good as "Old School." Surprisingly, "Old School" isn't being bought by the critics. "Bringing Down the House" has a better cast, but Steve Martin and co. don't make it a worthwhile comedy. Yet for some reason, I have a feeling that critics like this one more than "Old School." Maybe it's because critics blindly favor Steve Martin over Will Ferrell, even before seeing the movie. If you haven't seen either of the two, see "Old School." If you've already seen "Old School," see it again. If you've seen it two times already, see "Bringing Down the House."

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Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. Contact Editor: Scott Spicciati