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Dustin Putman

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Bringing Down the House (2003)
2 Stars

Directed by Adam Shankman
Cast: Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Jean Smart, Kimberly J. Brown, Angus T. Jones, Joan Plowright, Missi Pyle, Betty White, Michael Rosenbaum
2003 – 105 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for language, sexual humor, and drug material).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 23, 2003.

Whoever it was at Touchstone Pictures who had the bright idea of pairing together outrageous odd couple Steve Martin (2001's "Novocaine") and Queen Latifah (2002's "Chicago") for a sorta-kinda romantic comedy—with an emphasis on the 'comedy' aspect—should be promoted. "Bringing Down the House" is inconsequential and about as frothy and long-lasting as whipped cream, but there is no denying how very entertaining and funny it oftentimes is. At the very least, it's certainly a whole lot better than the idiotic "Old School."

When lonely, divorced lawyer Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin) starts an Internet relationship with whom he has been led to believe is also a beautiful, blonde lawyer, he gets far more than he bargained for when the black, voluptuous Charlene Morton (Queen Latifah) shows up at his door. It seems Charlene has just gotten out of jail for an armed robbery charge she says she didn't commit, and wants Peter to use his legal expertise to expunge her faulty record.

At first reluctant to help her out, Peter finds himself unable to say no, as the sassy, straight-forward Charlene invades his home, wins over his children, Sarah (Kimberly J. Brown) and Georgey (Angus T. Jones), and attracts the amorous attention of colleague Howie (Eugene Levy). Amidst all of the havoc, Peter and Charlene begin a sweet friendship, with her helping him to loosen up and see that he is still in love with his ex-wife, Kate (Jean Smart).

Directed by Adam Shankman (2002's "A Walk to Remember"), "Bringing Down the House" is zany and high-spirited. While not every comedic bit hits a veritable home run, there are enough genuine laughs to keep things fun and undemanding. For a PG-13-rated film, some of the material is refreshingly un-PC and ballsy, such as the appearance of Peter's insanely racist neighbor (a funny, if underused, Betty White), and an elderly client (a delightful Joan Plowright) who thinks nothing of singing offensive slave songs in front of Charlene and getting high off pot.

It has been a while since Steve Martin has been given a comedic role worthy of his effortless talents, but he is in top form as the put-upon Peter Sanderson. His ghetto impression in an African American nightclub is priceless. As fab as Martin is, however, Queen Latifah steals the film from underneath the entire cast. Latifah, Oscar-nominated for "Chicago," is finally getting the respect she deserves as an actress, and her sexy, hilarious portrayal of free-spirit Charlene is the best role she has ever had. Hopefully more work will come from this, because the charismatic Latifah turns out to have a genuine comic gift that cannot be denied.

For all of its inspired gags and writing, "Bringing Down the House" is better for its individual scenes and setups than it is for its story. The premise is of the throwaway variety, a mere excuse to let Steve Martin and Queen Latifah loose, doing what they do best. Their inspired turns alone carry "Bringing Down the House" to the finish line with ease, even if its lasting impression doesn't stick around for much longer than the length of the end credits.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman