Steve Martin is long established as one of the funniest guys around, but Bringing Down the House won’t be part of his career highlight reel. While the film did well at the box office, bringing in $164,729,679 worldwide, the inane script results in few genuine laughs.
Steve Martin plays Peter Sanderson, a workaholic tax attorney leading a typical, busy life. Jealous that his ex-wife Kate (the terminally underused Jean Smart), has a new, much younger boyfriend and missing his kids, Sarah (Kimberly J. Brown) and Georgey (Angus T. Jones), Peter turns to the internet in search of companionship. Early in the film, we see him typing away to “lawyer girl,” whom he met in a lawyer’s chat room and hopes to meet in person, soon.
Peter is a bit surprised when Charlene (Queen Latifah) shows up on his doorstep. She isn’t the tall blonde in the picture she sent, but rather a bodacious black woman. She’s not quite a lawyer either, but an ex-convict who studied her legal rights while doing time for a robbery she didn’t commit. Charlene is sorry that she lied to him, but she figured it was the only way she could get him to her prove her innocence. Naturally, Peter immediately throws Charlene out of his house.
Not one to take no for an answer, Charlene makes a quite a scene on Peter’s front lawn. Peter goes into full-on panic mode when his very proper, white neighbor, Mrs. Kline (Betty White), who happens to be his boss’ sister, emerges from her home, with curlers and golf club, exclaiming, “I thought I heard a Negro!” Paul hurries Charlene back inside, and despite his repeated attempts to get rid of her, it’s not long before Charlene becomes a part of Peter’s everyday life; inviting her friends over for house parties, becoming a nanny to his kids, and visiting his office regularly. There’s even that scene you’d expect where she crashes Peter’s country club while he having a meeting with a very important, rich client Mrs. Arness (Joan Plowright).
The process of wooing Mrs. Arness leads to one of the more uncomfortable scenes I’ve seen in recent film. Since Mrs. Arness is clearly not a woman who could deal with Peter having a black woman as a friend, Charlene gets passed off as the maid. Charlene is serving everyone dinner, and the kids are on their best behavior. Mrs. Arness reminisces fondly about about a black maid her family had, and a quaint Negro spiritual she used to sing. And then she sings it, at length. The words: “Mama, is Massa gonna sell us today? (repeat)”
There are limited comedy contexts where a scene like this might actually be funny—a Farrelly Brothers movie comes to mind—but this most certainly isn’t it.
In time, Charlene turns Peter into a more fun, sensitive, and caring guy (the implication is more black), and Peter teaches Charlene how to be a bit more of a conventional woman (implying white), and it all seems slightly insulting rather than funny. Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Joan Plowright and the rest of the cast have done much better films than this. Bringing Down the House is strictly forgettable.
Reproduced in its 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer is a very solid one. A nice level of detail is evident throughout. Colors are sharp and evenly saturated, making for real looking flesh tones. Black levels aren’t quite as strong as I might have liked, but that’s a small issue for an otherwise solid transfer.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is front heavy, as tracks for comedies often are. While music is spread evenly across the front channels, the rears only showcase minor ambiance sound, while sound effects seem almost muffled at times.
English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are available.
The following special features are included:
- An Audio Commentary with Director Adam Shankman and Screenwriter Jason Filardi: The two friends obviously had a ball recording this, as they laugh throughout (it should be noted that it was recorded before the film was released). They share memories of the shoot, the cast, deleted scenes, and more.
- Breaking Down Bringing Down the House (SD, 16:50) In this behind-the-scenes featurette, Adam Shankman, producers David Hoberman and Ashok Amritraj, and most of the main cast, talk about how great it was to work together.
- The Godfather of Hop (SD, 3 min) A tongue-in-cheek reverence to actor Eugene Levy’s hip persona in the movie.
- Better Than the Rest (SD, 4 min) Music video for the Queen Latifah song used over the closing credits.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 4:15) Four in all.
- Gag Reel (SD, 4 min.) The standard gag reel.
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