Bringing Down The House


Directed by: Adam Shankman
Written by:Jason Filardi
Starring: Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright, Jean Smart
Released: April 3, 2003
Grade: C+

Helping to pass the time on a recent flight, I read an interview in a film magazine with Steve Martin.  He speaks of the truth in the claim that comedy is the hardest genre to pull off.  You can have your instincts and think something is funny but until you put it in front of that audience, you’ll never know for sure.

In the past twenty years, few have delivered as high a success rate in comedy than Martin.  Since his breakout theatrical performance in The Jerk, his comedy has “mellowed” (his admission) but he’s still making people laugh and delivering when he has to.  As host of this year’s Academy Awards, Martin emphatically proved he can ad-lib just as well, if not better, than that scripted.

Sadly, no one is perfect and Bringing Down The House is a sub-standard blip in his lengthy resume.  He plays Peter Sanderson, a divorced lawyer who is looking to secure a big new client at work.  On the internet, he falls for a woman who it turns out was slightly misleading in providing her details.  She’s Charlene Morton (Latifah), fresh from prison and looking for a lawyer to clear her name.  Peter immediately kicks her out of the house but Charlene threatens to send the emails to his bosses if he doesn’t co-operate.

As always happens in the wonderful world that is Hollywood, Charlene and Peter become friends and learn valuable lessons in life.  Peter gets to know his kids better, realises his personal life is more important than work, and reconciles with his ex-wife.  Charlene clears her name, makes new friends and develops a whole new better life.  Comedy is mixed amongst these adventures with Martin doing his utmost but failing under the weight of the restricted screenplay.

A particular matter of disgust was the film’s method in delivering the message that we should be appreciating African American culture rather than chastising it.  I felt Martin’s antics (particularly those in the club scene at the end) were insulting and I’m interested in anyone else’s opinion on this matter.  The jokes were in very poor taste.

Queen Latifah gets few chances to dazzle, the usually witty Eugene Levy is lifeless and the other supporting stereotypes (sorry, I mean characters) are summed up by the stupidity of the next door neighbour (Bette White) and the silliness of the wealthy new client (Joan Plowright).  First time screenwriter Jason Filardi needs to throw away his textbook of overused clichés and rising director Adam Shankman (The Wedding Planner, A Walk To Remember) needs to be more selective of his material.  Honestly, I can’t think of a single member of the cast or crew who brought any initiative to this project.