Bringing Down the House
Directed by Adam Shankman
Written by Jason Filardi
Starring Steve Martin, Queen Latifah


Bringing Down the House

Yes, it's kind of dumb, and yes, what plot there is is obvious, but among other things it's a lot funnier than the other current stupid-white-man film "Old School."

Steve Martin is Peter Sanderson, tax attorney with a white-shoe firm in Los Angeles, divorced, distant father to his two kids, and now living alone. He starts an increasingly hot chat-room relationship with 'lawyergirl.' She sends him a photo of a stunning blonde, and when she arrives for their first date she is the very black Charlene Morton (Queen Latifah) instead. "Sure, I'm in the photo," she says, pointing to the tiny figures in the corner of the picture which when blown up reveal her being arrested by two cops. She did four years for robbery, but she insists she was set up and took the fall: "I did the time, but I didn't do the crime."

He takes her case, takes her in, and discovers that his best friend and partner at the firm, the very white and very Jewish Eugene Levy, is mad for her. Need we say that a great deal is made of a) Peter's racist neighbor Mrs. Kline (Betty White), who happens to be the sister of the firm's senior partner; and b) Peter's racist client Mrs. Arness (Joan Plowright), who even sings to the family, which has Charlene pretending to be the cook, what she describes as a spiritual she learned from her childhood maid, that goes "Massa gon' sell us tomorrow."

Need we also say that before she's done Charlene will beat back racism at various L.A. venues, will save Peter's 14-year-old daughter from being raped at a party, will teach his 8-year-old son to read, will bring Peter and his ex-wife Kate (Jean Smart) back together again, and would probably have stopped George Bush from leading the world to war if only she'd been in Washington instead of Los Angeles? By way of reparations, in case you were worried, Peter does in fact find the real crook and save the day for Charlene.

The film was directed by Adam Shankman, a choreographer by trade, who even in his first film knows how to stage a scene and where to put the camera. He does have some trouble, though, holding Martin back from doing shtick instead of acting. The writer is Jason Filardi, also his first feature, and here the verdict is very mixed. His racists are less than caricatures, which means they don't even draw the intended laughs. Their lines, instead of being funny, just sit there while we wait for the film to move on. But there are moments when he does get it right, more so than the gang at "Old School," so this film does have certain redeeming features.