Bringing Down The House

Bringing Down The House


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Racist jokes? In Hollywood? You betta believe it!

Although formulaic in every sense, Bringing Down The House is refreshingly incorrect, politically speaking. A Republican matron, clipping the roses, pricks up her ears. "I thought I heard negro," she pipes in a high, nervous voice. "No negro spoken here," calls back Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin) from the garden opposite, as he desperately tries to hide the considerable frame of all black Charlene in the bushes. The race gag crops up everywhere in this movie and there are times when it becomes uncomfortable.

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What do you call Queen Latifah, Oscar nominee for Chicago and one-time rap diva? Ms Queen or Latifah, or Mamma Cool? It's not a name that runs easy in a review. Let's go with Queenie. It's suits her personality. And this lady is ALL personality. She may be the new Whoopie Goldberg, although don't tell her, because she'll say, "Whoopsie GoldWHAT?? I'm no new nobody. I's ME." Of course, she's right.

The plot is not entirely a join-the-dots production. It has a few tricks up its sleeve. Peter is a high-flying, stressed-out Los Angeles tax attorney, whose marriage has fallen apart, due to workaholism, and who doesn't have time to listen to his kids. Charlene has a fun relationship with him on an internet chat line, in which she calls herself Lawyer-Girl. They arrange a date. He expects a slim, sexy blonde, half his age. She expects a youthful, fair-haired criminal lawyer.

Joke 1: she's big and she's black. Joke 2: he's appalled and tries to throw her out the house. Jokes 3 - 9: in smart LA circles anyone of colour is acceptable only in servile roles, such as cook/nanny/houseslave. Joke 10: Queenie's not having any of this prejudicial bull waste and gets physical. Joke 11: Charlene is an escaped bank robber. Joke 12: Peter's colleague Howie (Eugene Levy) thinks she is sex on legs. Joke 13: she calls him Freak-Boy.

In the battle of personalities, Queenie and Martin go head-to-head. It's not a blackwash, by any means. She has the sassy lines and knows the gangsta argot, but he's back on form, as if thriving on serious competition. He used to freewheel with Goldie Hawn and it was all too easy. Now, he has to dig deeper, because anything less would have handed the movie over to Queenie.

Joan Plowright has a support role as a multimillionaire client whom Peter's law firm are desperate to entice into their greedy fold, which means more hiding Charlene incidents. Embarrassing scene 5: Plowright recalls childhood memories in the South when negroes were treated like idiot children, with Charlene listening from the kitchen, naturally enraged.

Despite the underlying bigotry within the context of Californian conservatism, there are genuinely funny moments, such as Martin's attempt at dancing and dressing as a white rapper to infiltrate an all-black club. Also, Missi Pyle, who plays Peter's sister-in-law, is hilariously bitchy. She has a fight with Queenie in a ladies loo, which gets seriously out of hand.

Final score: Martin 3 Queenie 4 (in extra time). Good match.

Reviewed on: 29 May 2003
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Bringing Down The House packshot
Steve Martin is a tax lawyer and Queen Latifah a convicted bank robber in comedy sparring match.
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Director: Adam Shankman

Writer: Jason Filardi

Starring: Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright, Jean Smart, Kimberly J Brown, Angus T Jones, Missi Pyle

Year: 2003

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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