Directed By: Adam Shankman
Written By: Jason Filardi
Starring: Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugine Levy, Jean Smart, Joan Plowright, Missi Pyle, Betty White
Rated: PG-13 (language, sexual humor, drug material)
Running Time: 105 Min.
New, this season, it's the sit-com that everybody's talking about! He's white, she's black, and they don't get along! Yes, Steve Martin and Queen Latifah are Bringing Down the House! Not raunchy enough for FOX, not hip enough for The CW, and just too darn long for any of the real networks, this sit-com can only be endured on home video.
You probably already know from the commercials, but here's the situation. Steve Martin plays Peter Sanderson, an uptight, divorced white guy who makes a date with a woman he meets in an internet chat room. He assumes that she is white, blonde, and perky. Naturally, he assumes wrong.
His date turns out to be Charlene Morton, a convicted felon played by Queen Latifah. She needs a lawyer to help clear her name, and, luckily for her, Sanderson is one. Put simply, a more fitting title for this little gem would be You've Got Bail. Merriment in the form of gross misunderstanding and cover-up follows with nearly imperceptible results. To add to this stereotypical melee, poor Peter has a neighbor, a client, and an ex-sister-in-law who all seem to be stuck in the '60s - - the 1860's, that is. These three characters are so incredibly bigoted that they skip right past 'offensive' and enter the realm of 'just plain embarrassing'. The one thing that I'm fairly certain they weren't was 'funny'. Peter must, of course, hide Charlene's true identity from them, or die trying. Throughout it all, the 'comedy' portion of this sit-com seems to be missing in action.
Now, I realize that Bringing Down the House is not meant to be a great work of cinema, but even a silly comedy should at least have the decency to not insult the intelligence of its audience. The poor writing and horrible racial stereotyping presented here does just that. The white characters are all unbelievably ignorant or naive, and the black characters are all criminals. What's worse is that, by the end of the movie, none of this has changed.
I also have nothing against ethnic humor. When it is imaginative, relevant, and funny, it is humor in its earliest, most powerful form. After all, the ability to laugh at our differences and ourselves, and, in turn, break down the racial and cultural barriers that separate us from one another, is crucial to our survival together on this planet.
Come to think of it, a great example of this is Mr. Steve Martin, himself! He is a true genius in the ways of ethnic stand-up humor. In fact, Steve's entire pre-Hollywood stand-up act was based on being the superlative 'white guy'. While the whiteness of his hair may have been a coincidence, the whiteness of his suit surely was not. With his hilariously mundane ramblings and corny magic tricks, he embodied the caucasian ideal. He would often appear onstage, desperately attempting to live up to the white man's standard for beauty by wearing a pair of Playboy Bunny ears. Other times, he would jokingly adorn himself with an arrow through his head, knowing full well that this was the gruesome fate that befell many a palefaced American settler during the 1800's. Were that not enough, he would then couragously take the term 'happy feet' to its literal extreme, showing that, when the conditions were just right, a white man could, in defiance of all logic, dance. And, for the visually impaired, his trusty banjo was always at the ready. Could there be anything more 'white' than that? I don't think so. Is it any wonder, then, that such a giant of insightfully subtle ethnic mirth would begin his feature film career in The Jerk, playing the son of a black sharecropper? Of course not! Okay, perhaps I may be over-analysing Steve's comedic method just a bit. If that's so, well... excuuuse meeee!
I was really hoping that Bringing Down the House would mark Steve Martin's return to his proud roots, but sadly, it didn't. Rather than wasting your time with this shameless cinematic backstep for race-relations, just watch South Park or Dave Chappelle's show instead. You'll be glad you did.