Bringing Down The House

(2003)

Touchstone Pictures

Directed by Adam Shankman
Produced by Ashok Amritraj
Written by Jason Filardi

Right off the bat I guess I should tell you my first impression after the first ten minutes of my watching “Bringing Down The House”: it’s a pilot for a sitcom. And The Wife agreed with me 100%. But you know something? The right elements are there and its entertaining enough that by the half-hour mark I didn’t even care. The cast is obviously having fun with what they’re doing and that fun comes across so well that I sat back with a goofy grin on my face and waited for the next outrageous situation and enjoyed the belly laughs as they came. And the movie does have quite a few belly laughs and more than a few quieter chuckles. It’s nowhere near in the same league as…oh, “Blazing Saddles” or “PORKY’S” but it is a very funny movie and does the one thing I absolutely demand from a comedy: it made me laugh.

Peter Sanderson is a corporate lawyer struggling through a separation from his wife and trying to stay two jumps ahead of the younger, more aggressive lawyers at his firm looking for his slot. There’s a major client who has inherited a multi-billion dollar corporation and Peter is in charge of the account. If he lands it, he’ll be made a partner and set for life and if he loses it…well, there’s always ambulance chasing. Meanwhile, Peter has been having chat room conversations with a young lady named Lawyergurl since the separation from his wife and they agree to meet at Peter’s house for a date. Imagine his surprise when instead of the tall, willowy blonde he was expecting, he gets the full-figured, more-bounce-to-the-ounce chocolate goddess Charlene Morton who claims she was framed for the armed robbery rap she served time for and wants Peter’s help in clearing her name. And that’s the set-up for the movie’s plot, thin as it is. If you’ve seen the trailers for this movie, they tell you all that right away in 45 seconds. Toldja it was a thin plot.

Peter and Charlene go through the usual conventions of this kind of material where they argue and fight and bicker. They seem more like a old married couple halfway through the movie than most RealLife married couples I know, especially in the scenes where Charlene helps Peter’s kids through their various problems (kinda reminded me of that old Nell Carter sitcom Get A Life) and I had hopes that the screenplay would take the daring step of actually having the two characters fall in love, which would seem to me to be a natural outcome of them spending so much time together.

But no, the movie takes a different angle and has Charlene helping Peter get his wife back while Peter’s partner, Howie falls mad hard for Charlene and he actually becomes Charlene’s romantic interest while Peter and Charlene remain friends and Peter goes undercover at a hip hop club in the last half hour to find out who really framed Charlene for the armed robbery rap. And that’s where the movie makes a serious misstep. I’d have liked to see the movie go for broke and have Peter and Charlene actually find themselves falling in love with each other and having to deal with their feelings for each other.

I haven’t seen Steve Martin have this much charisma and energy with a female co-star since Bernadette Peters, who he co-starred with in “The Jerk” (one of The Ten Funniest Movies Ever Made) and “Pennies From Heaven”. It would have been really interesting to have seen the movie explore a romantic/sexual relationship between a man and woman from such radically different backgrounds and I think that would have raised the movie out of the TV Sitcom-On-Steroids feel “Bringing Down The House” has and made it into something truly special. The relationship between the two characters is so entertaining and intriguing that by the halfway point of the movie, you are hoping they’ll get together and knock some boots fer real.

But let’s deal with the movie for what it is. It’s honestly and truly funny. Steve Martin has long been one of my favorite actors and here he shows why he’s been around this long. He’s terrific when he has to be funny and in the quieter scenes he’s a seasoned pro. This is material he’s been doing for some 20 years now and he knows what he’s doing. One of his big scenes come when he infiltrates a hip hop club and it’s a scene that had the audience I saw the movie with howling with laughter and I was holding my sides and it’s even funnier because Steve Martin can dance. It sure as hell didn’t look to me like a double doing those steps and his chemistry with the rest of the cast is great. He and Queen Latifah look great together and they make a good comedy team. I wouldn’t mind seeing what they could do in a dramatic movie together

Queen Latifah comes off as a seasonsoned pro in this movie and it’s cool to see a full-figured woman looked upon as a sexy object of desire in this movie. The Wife wondered where she got the money for the outfits and hairstyles she was wearing during this movie, but I didn’t care a lick. She looked great. And she can act. Between this movie and “CHICAGO” she’s done okay (I haven’t seen “TAXI” yet but from what I’ve heard, she may have to do “Macbeth” to redeem herself). She looks wonderful in this movie and her sense of comedy timing is impeccable. Her scenes with Joan Plowright (an accomplished English actress) are really terrific and Queen Latifah more than holds her own with an actress who was doing Shakespeare before Queen Latifah was born.

The rest of the cast has their moments except for Jean Smart. I’ve nevr seen the acting appeal of this woman until played a memorable role in one season of ’24’ and you’ll probably best remember her as one of the sisters on ‘Designing Woman’ where she was out acted by another full-figured beauty, Delta Burke. and every time she’s on the screen, the movie slows down because there’s a boring subplot where’s she’s dating a young man that goes nowhere and eats up screen time.

Eugene Levy is a standout as Howie, Peter’s best friend who falls hard for Charlene. Howie’s hipper than Peter and knows all the hip-hop slang and lingo and one of the funniest things in the movie is his delivery of that slang in straight-up lawyerese. He has a wonderful scene where he first sees Charlene in slow motion that I think is a parody of those scenes with your typical willowy blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Gwyneth Paltrow types and it worked in a way I don’t think a lot of people in the audience caught. But I did and I roared because it did a 180 spin on those types of movie scenes.

And I can’t finish this review without mentioning Missi Pyle, who plays Ashley, the sister of the Jean Smart character. She’s one of the villains of the piece and she’s so good because she turns out to be just as bad as Charlene in her own way. They trade wicked insults back and forth with style and bear-trap wit and they have a fight scene so kickass that it had half the audience jumping out of their seats rooting for her to beat Queen Latifah. Imagine the female equivalents of Mike Tyson and Jet Li going toe to toe and you’ve got an idea of what I’m talking about.

So should you see “Bringing Down The House”? Hell, yeah. Hey, we’re not talking high art here or Academy Award winning performances. We’re talking about an entertaining 2-hour movie featuring a seasoned comedy/dramatic professional and an up-and-comer who has a promising film career ahead of her. It’s a standard sitcom plot but they make it work and they give us our money’s worth, no doubt. You wanna laugh for 2 hours? “Bringing Down The House” will make you laugh. Enjoy.

105 min.
Rated PG-13: The language, drug references and sexual stuff in this movie are so mild I can’t imagine anybody getting offended or bent outta shape. You’ll find more racy scenes and harsh language in an episode of “Nip/Tuck”