Worth A Look: 8.51%
Pretty Bad: 8.51%
Total Crap: 60.99%
5 reviews, 111 user ratings
|Bringing Down the House
by Scott Weinberg
Hero Worship is a dangerous game. I've been a passionate fan of Steve Martin's since I was about six (my parents used to play his comedy albums constantly). I've enjoyed lengthy debates with people on the hidden merits of movies like Sgt. Bilko and Mixed Nuts (arguably Martin's worst flicks), I've read every book and play the man's written, and I proudly rank him as my #1 Favorite Actor in Hollywood. No kidding. And if I met the guy tomorrow, I'd say to him (while fighting back tears of fury) "Shame on you Steve. Just shame on you."That's how atrocious Bringing Down the House is. The comedy is anemic, dull and outdated, the screenplay is a harrowingly ugly pastiche of reverse racism, every actor onscreen is clearly on auto-pilot, and the underlying theme of the movie is as insulting as it is painful to experience.
"Nothing's like watching a personal hero wriggle through shit."
This movie makes Mixed Nuts look like Hamlet.
And here's what pisses me off most of all: Steve Martin doesn't need to do shit like this! Let's take a look at the formerly Wild & Crazy guy's most recent features:
Overlooking little spots in Fantasia 2000, The Prince of Egypt, The Spanish Prisoner and Joe Gould's Secret, Martin's last few years have brought us...
Novocaine, Bowfinger, and The Out-of-Towners.
Clearly the guy doesn't snatch up every script tossed his way. Call it taste, call it intelligence, or chalk it up to the fact that the guy's a damn good screenwriter in his own right, but the simple fact is that Martin hasn't done many movies lately.
Some could see this as a smart actor being choosy.
So how the hell does one explain Martin's presence in what's easily one of the worst comedies of the past ten years???
I don't know; ask someone less enamored with Steve Martin's total body of work. I guess I'm too close to the problem to think clearly. But I do know that Bringing Down the House made me furious - mainly because it's such a wretched film but also because of what's become of my beloved white-haired comedian. All I can say is that I hope Steve got a cut of the Box Office receipts, because Bringing Down the House is absolutely awful enough to become a big hit at the multiplexes.
Martin plays a Peter Sanderson, a lonely divorcee who sparks up an Internet romance with a fellow attorney. Or so he thinks. Imagine Whitey's surprise when a loud, overweight black woman shows up at his door claiming to be his cyber-babe. Latifah plays Charlene, an ex-con and bona-fide black person. The rest of the flick consists of Peter trying to hide Charlene from his white co-workers and neighbors.
Think back on movies like Short Circuit or Harry and the Hendersons; picture the following scene:
The large 'creature' stands in the living room as the doorbell rings. Our heroes scurry around trying to cover the creature with big blankets or furniture. The front door opens and the visitors suspiciously eye around the room as the heroes act really really dumb. The creature remains undiscovered as comedy ensues.
OK, so it's hardly an original concept, but now imagine the 'creature' is a loud-mouthed minority. Yes, according to screenwriter Jason Filardi, nothing in an upper-crust white neighborhood could EVER be as horrifiying as a black woman who's not someone's servant.
Save for Martin's character, every whitey in Bringing Down the House is racist to an almost Duke-ian degree. It's horrifying to behold. Try not to cringe as words like "Jemima" are flung about for laughs, and veteran performer Joan Plowright humiliates herself beyond all hope of redemption by spending a good three minutes of screen time belting out an old 'slave song' for Charlene's benefit. And I'm intentionally avoiding mention of an execrable 'fight scene' between Charlene and a racist whitey bitch, one that A) runs on about 4 minutes too long, B) is over-the-top physical schtick wholly incongruous with the rest of the film, C) features some of the worst direction I've ever seen, and D) perfectly represents the amateurish awfulness of Bringing Down the House as a whole.
Is any of this funny yet?
Clearly working under the (currently correct) assumption that mocking white people is a simple way to get the cheapest laughs in the universe, professional hack and talentless wonder Adam Shankman (A Walk to Remember, The Wedding Planner) overloads his ugly film with horrific excess. Uptight Whitey of the Hour Eugene Levy stops by for six scenes in which he's forced to mumble arcane 'urban slang' in the hopes of scoring a few mild chuckles and fails entirely. (Let me know when the whole 'white people using black slang' schtick is through as comedy fodder - as it's infinitely more insulting and pandering than it is actually entertaining.)
Since Bringing Down the House was produced by Latifah herself, it should come as no surprise that the movie has a tone of 'African Americans know what's up; stuffy white people are morons' vibe, and the actress somehow manages to bring a small amount of charm to her horrible character - all of it wasted on a film so unsavory it inspires wide-mouthed gaping.
Consider early scenes in which Latifah invades Martin's home; we're supposed to side with the ex-con because Whitey can't deal with an African American squatter. Yes, we're meant to side with Latifah, despite the fact that she's A) a stranger, B) a potentially dangerous ex-con, and C) prone to throwing House Parties (complete with hundreds more (gasp!) Black People!) at the drop of a hat. So while our logical brains tell us "She's a freaking menace! Call the cops, Steve!", the film screams "Bah, you're just a whitey and you're an idiot. You already bought the ticket, so revel in the swill."
This sort of thing happens about ten times during the film, and each experience brought me closer to getting up from my seat and leaving the theater. (The last movie I walked out on was Meteor Man and that flick came out about ten years ago. If you'd have told me that I'd be considering my next walkout during a Steve Martin movie, I'd have thought you straight trippin' yo.)
Get it? "STRAIGHT TRIPPING YO!?!?!" It's funny...cuz I'm white... and that's something... a BLACK person... might...say...
See? Not funny.
Perhaps I'm being a bit too sensitive to the race stuff in what's essentially a puffy little comedy flick. That still doesn't change the fact that there's not one good laugh in the entire movie. I'm not sure what kind of magic spell it takes to make Steve Martin so lifeless and unlikable, but I certainly hope that it's a concoction exclusive to clueless studio property like Shankman and Filardi.
Bringing Down the House purports to be about how white and black can get along...but only if the white guy is the only non-racist in the universe. Equally insulting to both races, Bringing Down the House is one of the most hateful and low-minded comedies I've ever seen - and it absolutely earns a spot right next to the justifiably loathed Amos & Andrew, both of which clearly illustrate why talentless filmmakers should never attack a topic they know nothing about. And shame on you, Steve.I never thought I'd live to witness a Steve Martin project that I actively hate, but I now know that Hollywood can and will ruin everything given half the chance. I know for a fact that Steve Martin turns down a lot of scripts, which begs the question: was he on CRACK when he signed on for this one?
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=7139&reviewer=128
originally posted: 03/06/03 06:38:29