Touchstone Pictures // 2003 // 105 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // September 3rd, 2003
An uptight urban comedy.
Some movies become hits and we all go, "well of course." (This includes the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies). Others defy studio's expectations and soar like eagles (kudos to Ghost and Freddy vs. Jason!). And then there are those that are just plain baffling, like Bringing Down the House. Who'd have thought that the teaming of Steve Martin (Planes, Trains and Automobiles) and Oscar nominee Queen Latifah (Chicago) would bring in audiences by the droves? Apparently some savvy marketing group, seeing as Bringing Down the House rolled away with a large chunk of change to the tune of over $130 million at the box office. Also starring the ever dependable Eugene Levy (A Mighty Wind, American Wedding) and Joan Plowright (101 Dalmatians), Bringing Down the House brings down the DVD care of Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
Steve Martin plays Peter Sanderson, a high powered attorney who expels far too much energy trying to be as anal retentive as possible. Peter lives in a posh suburb with his two children and often visits internet chat rooms (big mistake). One night Peter decides to make a blind date with an online woman known only as Lawyergirl. When the date night arrives, Peter opens the door to shock and amazement -- instead of finding a leggy blonde (as Lawyergirl deceptively portrayed herself), he finds Charlene Mortin (Latifah), a trash-talkin' ex-con with attitude to spare. After attempting to get her out of his house, Peter finds that she's peskier than a bag of fleas. Charlene breaks back into his house and throws a wild party. Then she decides to meddle even further with his kids, job (including a fiasco involving Peter's attempts at landing a large account with a wealthy heiress), and general existence until he finally agrees to take on Charlene's case to prove her innocence. Along the way Peter will pine for his ex-wife (Jean Smart) and learn to never judge a book by its cover, even if its cover appears to be a popular rapper turned fictional overbearing ex-con.
They say that executing good comedy is harder than performing emotionally charged drama. I can see what they mean when I watch a movie like Bringing Down the House. What, exactly, possessed the talented Steve Martin to take on such a horrendously mediocre project? Was it for the paycheck? The need for filler between his other talents (novelist and screenwriter)? Whatever the reason, Martin has placed himself inside of an unfunny debacle that did surprisingly well at the box office. This was due in no small part to Queen Latifah and Martin being paired together -- demographically, they were covering all the major bases.
And yet, Bringing Down the House had me laughing (smiling is a more apt term) in very short bursts, as when Martin dresses as an African American hip-hopper and infiltrates a mostly black nightclub. Funny? Yes, but only for a few moments. After the novelty wears off we're left with watching a fine actor bust-a-move on the dance floor for what seems likes an eternity. This is what comedy has come to? Steve Martin acting like a gangsta? Welcome to the decline of western cinema comedy as we know it.
Bringing Down the House has one of those contrived stories that throws two very different people together and then forces them to make each other's lives better. The story basically points out that Martin's areas for improvement include his anal retentive nature and that he's too white. Charlene breezes into his life and finds that maybe she's sometimes too over-bearing and loud and maybe sometimes she's a little too black. And so with the magic of Hollywood's hand, each of these characters becomes more white and/or black, and a little less aggravating to each other. Shockingly, they never fall in love. This plot point is left to Eugene Levy, who woos Charlene with his funky homeboy sayings that only Levy can deliver (and his asides -- "You got me straight trippin', boo!" -- are the best part of the film). Sporting eyebrows the size of candy bars, Levy's deadpan delivery is always a welcome addition to any movie, even one as flaccid as this. The rest of the film is filled with stock comedy characters, including the Bigoted Neighbor (played with a salty mouth by ex-Golden Girl Betty White), the Sleazy Business Associate, the Intelligent Kids, et cetera.
Writer Jason Filardi fills the film with lots of comedic possibilities (as when Martin visits an all-black nightclub) and lets them falter and fail. The sad fact is that Bringing Down the House could have been a sharply written tale in the hands of a sharper writer. Director Adam Shankman (who is also a choreographer!) seems like an able director, but doesn't bring much to the table -- this is a straight forward movie without any edge or freshness. Unless, of course, you consider freshness to be a senior citizen learning about the values of the African American culture through smoking a joint.
Look, I like Steve Martin as much as the next guy. I think he's made some classic comedies and is a witty actor. I just don't know what he was thinking when he made this particular movie. I guess we're all entitled to a few stumbles (hey, this wasn't quite as bad as Martin's Mixed Nuts). Let's just hope that both he and Latifah make some smarter film choices as their careers continue. As for Bringing Down the House, the title is deceptive: this party is a complete dud.
Bringing Down the House is presented in a fine looking 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Say what you will about the movie, the fact remains that Buena Vista has done a great job with this transfer. The colors all appear to be in excellent shape without any major defects plaguing the transfer. The black levels are solid and dark sans any gray tinting. Aside of a small amount of edge haloing, Bringing Down the House should do wonders on any TV set.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and French. Overall this sound mix works well within the confines of the movie. While the dialogue, music, and effects are clear, don't expect a heavy 5.1 mix -- this is a mostly front heavy track with only a few instances of surround sounds or directional effects. The biggest boost comes from the pop/rap songs and Lalo Schifrin's bouncy music score. Otherwise, this 5.1 mix should work fine on any home theater system. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English.
For those of you who loved the movie, here's some good news: the disc features a few meaty supplements. Starting off the bonus materials is a commentary track by director Adam Shankman and writer Jason Filardi. This is a standard commentary that never delves deeply into any truly interesting information. Then again, considering the movie they're analyzing, that's not very surprising. This track will most likely be a draw for die hard fans of the film, and that's about it.
A three-minute featurette titled "The Godfather of Hip Hop" is far better, a witty look at actor Eugene Levy and his influence (!) in the rap world. Of course, this is presented as dryly as the Mojave Desert with its tongue firmly in cheek -- everyone considers Levy to be the man who practically launched every rapper's career. This is a funny and far-too-brief inside joke. "Breaking Down Bringing Down the House" is a 16-minute featurette that sports typical promotional stuff -- talking head interviews and clips from the film. It's a rather bland featurette that isn't nearly as funny as the one focusing on Levy.
Next up are seven deleted scenes in non-anamorphic widescreen. None of these caught my fancy, though I'm sure fans will be delighted that they've been included on this disc. A gag reel of the stars flubbing their lines is set to music and is actually funnier than the film (which isn't saying much).
Finally there's a Queen Latifah music video for the song "Better Than the Rest" featuring Eugene Levy as a pimp daddy, as well as various trailers for other Buena Vista titles.
Bringing Down the House made oodles of cash, and yet it's about on par with something like the mediocre Will Ferrell comedy Old School. The laughs are often very weak and forced (I never thought I'd see the day Steve Martin would do an American Pie-esque gag involving bowel troubles, but here you go). Buena Vista has done a decent job with this disc, so there's your silver lining.
Bringing Down the House is sentenced to six days of community service watching Three Amigos.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary Track by Director Adam Shankman and Writer Jason Filardi
* Gag Reel
* Seven Deleted Scenes
* Two Featurettes
* Theatrical Trailers
* "Better Than the Rest" Music Video by Queen Latifah