Bringing Down the House

Hot off her Oscar nomination for Chicago, Queen Latifah gets her biggest role yet in Bringing Down the House. After a string of small, unnotable performances in a variety of films and a television series, she is quickly emerging as a force to be reckoned with. Chicago and Brown Sugar showed her versatility, and her charisma helps salvage a mediocre script here. In fact, Latifah and co-stars Steve Martin and Eugene Levy are the main reason to see this film, which, aside from the script is also been done many times before (once even by Martin). Jason Filardo wrote it, and does manage to bring in some chuckles along the way. Still, this is one of those films where the funniest scenes made their way to the trailer.

Latifah is Charlene Morton, an escaped convict looking to clear her name. She holes up in the house of Peter Sanderson (Martin, Novocaine, Joe Gould's Secret), an uptight white lawyer. They met on the Internet, and Sanderson believed that Morton was also a lawyer (she sent him a picture with an attractive white lady in the foreground and her being arrested in the background). One Sanderson realizes he was duped, he tries to get rid of her, but she threatens to expose his folly. Morton wants Sanderson to prove her innocence, and Sanderson just wants her out of his life. It doesn't help that he is trying to win the account of Mrs. Arness (Joan Plowright, Dinosaur, Tea with Mussolini), an aging relic of the past who is archly conservative (especially against blacks). This means that Morton has to pretend to be a nanny or maid when others are around.

The only people drawn to Morton are Sanderson's kids, Sarah (Kimberly J. Brown, Tumbleweeds, A Bug's Life) and Georgey (Angus. T. Jones, The Rookie, See Spot Run) and co-worker Howie (Eugene Levy, Like Mike, Serendipity). Sarah is having boy problems, Georgey is having problems reading, and Sanderson longs for his ex-wife. Bringing Down the House has a strange combination of feel-good comedy and extreme racial humor that director Adam Shankman (A Walk to Remember, The Wedding Planner) straddles surprisingly well. To the film's credit, much of the racial humor comes at the expense of the white folks. They are purposefully cartoonish boors, ignorant to an extreme degree, except for Levy, who goes in the opposite direction. This forces Sanderson to recognize that Morton is a person and has a brain.

All this leads to where Bringing Down the House becomes dull. Morton is the person seemingly most ill suited to make things better for everybody, but she does. She is everything that is foreign to Sanderson, yet their time together opens him up. Few people can play an uptight person as well as Martin can, and his comic timing here is great. Events in the run along an obvious route, and people watching can basically follow along as things wind their way to the end of the film, but not before the obligatory snag that makes Sanderson and friends doubt Morton. Of course, everything wraps up neatly in the end, which, like much of the film, is to be expected.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 45 minutes, Rated PG-13 for language, sexual humor, and drug material.

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