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Saturday, 15 October 2016

Retro Review: Bringing Down The House (2003)

Bringing Down The House
Cast: Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Jean Smart, Betty White
Genre: Comedy
Worldwide Lifetime Gross: $164.6 million 

Plot: Lawyer Peter Sanderson wants to dive back into dating after his divorce and has a hard time meeting the right women. But he lucks out with online dating and meets a fellow lawyer. The two agree to meet in the flesh, but the women he meets - an escaped African American convict named Charlene,- is not what he expected. Peter is freaked out, but Charlene convinced him to take her case & prove her innocence, and along the way, they learn to become friends. 

'Barren Housesitter Wannabe With African-American References'

I've read all about the racist and racial stereotypes and references and humour that this movie evokes, and yet what it all boils down to for me is that Bringing Down The House is just an average comedy film, that as a film itself just doesn't do enough to keep me entertained and amused.

Steve Martin plays an uptight divorcee, Peter, who is also by day some legal eagle, who chats with some woman by the name of Charlene online in his attempts to find his ideal partner - only to discover she is not what he was expecting and it turns out she is a former con-artist and Black woman, who is not afraid of speaking her mind and has plenty of attitude to go with it too. He tries to throw her out, keep her away from the kids, but the kids are drawn towards her and Eugene Levy's character has a thing for Charlene as well. She even tries to blackmail Peter in order to get what she wants, and he eventually caves into her demands and helps her clear her name.

Steve Martin had a relatively good career in the 1980s but come the 1990s, but for Bowfinger and into the 2000s he has struggled when it comes to movie success in his latter efforts. Martin's career as a comedian turned comedic actor has been on the slippery slope, with average to mediocre movie offerings, only matched by that of Eddie Murphy's, and especially with Eddie Murphy's and Steve Martin's joint 1999 collaboration, than Steve Martin's individually speaking, and who is only partially saved by his vocal efforts as Donkey in the Shrek animated movies. Here, Steve Martin revisits his past role from Housesitter, and whilst at times, it is amusing, I much preferred him in Bowfinger & Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. 

And this early 2000s offering, Bringing Down The House, whilst it is not overly mediocre in my eyes, the delivery and the set up was really underwhelming with a pedestrian direction, and is therefore not wholly amusing. As it should have been. The material and script are laboured and predictable, whereas the gags range from mildly amusing to either unfunny, cheap or tiring. 

Regarding accusations that the racial stereotypes in this film were offensive, well when some other comedy movies have moments when a white guy pretends to be Black, they don't get called out for it, but yet this film does, is rather hypocritical, to say the least. I've seen comedy movies where this exact thing happens and I end up giggling or laughing instead of getting angry or upset because it is just for laughs and isn't done intentionally with means to offend. The humour comes across as being more farcical, as opposed to malicious. 

But in truth, the racial gags and terms in this effort were not what let me down but rather the whole set-up; that the movie turned out to be really underwhelming and sub-standard. There were moments where I smiled here and there such as Steve Martin donned out in a basketball jersey, hat, and a pair of sneakers trying to utter words such as 'homie' and 'yo'. But other than that, the so-called laugh-out-loud moments did not make me laugh out loud & were confounding, and I'd even go as far as to say the humour felt forced as well.

It's funny that this film is labelled as a romantic comedy, as Bringing Down The House doesn't follow through this set-up, not to mention it deviates from being a standard romantic comedy; hence, it makes attempts at romance but never follows any of them through and thoroughly, and it becomes something of a screwball comedy. This movie is really Housesitter meets Bulworth. But minus some of the wit of Housesitter and shrewdness of Bulworth and the romantic subplot involving the male and female protagonists. Seeing Betty White as a racist neighbour was actually out of character for me; and thus, I didn't really buy into it. As warm and sweet as she was on The Golden Girls and Hot In Cleveland, this role didn't suit her to be honest. The last 20 mins of the film though were rather unbelievable as it takes a more serious turn, but given the light-hearted nature of Bringing Down The House, I thought it was far-fetched & unreasonable for the movie to go down this route.  

Eugene Levy was amusing though as he tries to woo Charlene with lines such as, ''You got me straight Trippin' Boo'.

Strangely, this film is directed by choreographer and former dancer, Adam Shankman who gave us The Wedding Planner with Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McCounaughey, and who is also one of the judges on So You Think You Can Dance reality dance TV show. He is not someone one would have in mind when it comes to movie directors. And yet with Bringing Down The House, he just didn't make it more enjoyable. 

Final Verdict:

Bulworth did it better and smarter as a multi-racial comedy without degenerating into laboured and tiring gags, humour and laughs, unlike this film with the slapstick, black-references laden & broad as they are to replace the sharp, satirical humour. Bringing Down The House also tries to be funny and humourous but most of the jokes, scenes fell flat and thus, they didn't leave much of an impression on me.  

The film just doesn't evoke the type of humour that relies less on stereotypes, and the overall film itself is really cliched with nothing really remotely interesting to make it stand out, nor ultimately have 1 or 2 laugh out loud comedic scenes to make it worthwhile. 

Bringing Down The House has a budding premise and plot, but the execution is a sheer letdown. Disregarding the racial references and terminology, as a standalone comedy movie, it doesn't deliver what the plot says on the tin. It has dumb humour and dumb jokes, and I'm all for it, but with this film, the script wasn't that great and it didn't have enough of the well-written and well-devised humour to go with that too. The last 20 mins or so with the gun scene took such a sudden, yet strange turn when it tried to become more serious and so realistic, - and when it did, I switched off. 

People were taken aback by the racial references in this comedy...... for me, I was taken aback that Bringing Down The House wasn't as enjoyable for me as the original previews and trailer had made it out to be. Though there are some watchable and amusing moments, there just wasn't more of them and the humour wasn't well written either. & as a comedy, I have seen better and I prefer most comedy movies over the likes of this one, Deuce Bigalow, Death to Smoochy to name. 

This is another case where the film trailers can be and are so misleading. 

But if you are into straight out, occasionally humourous comedy and aren't too offended by the unintentional racism or be it racial contexts it evokes, then Bringing Down The House is worth seeing. 


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