Review: Bringing Down the House

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

When I see a trailer for a comedy, its quality is always a double standard. If the trailer is too well constructed and hilarious, I fear that the movie wasted all the good punch lines of the trailer and TV spots. Yet if the trailer is a stinker, I write the movie off as terrible. Bringing Down the House had a hilarious trailer, that I had the pleasure of seeing twice at showings of other films, and the trailer had me rolling in the isles. Yet while I entered the theatre giddy with excitement, I left feeling like I had been conned. I had once again fallen for the “all the funny jokes were in the trailer” jip that the studios press upon the unassuming public. Fortunately for all of you reading this, I was able to view Bringing Down the House before it hits the box office, so please, learn from my dissatisfaction and heed my warning: stay clear of any movie claiming that they are ‘Bringing Down’ any sort of living establishment.

Steve Martin plays Peter Sanderson, a workaholic tax attorney who is never a mere hand reach away from his cell phone. Peter is recently divorced with two kids, and is a little lonesome, so he commits to lowest act possible for searching for life, he turns to the anonymity of internet chat rooms. He soon begins frequent conversation with one, “Lawyer-girl” or Charlene. When the two finally meet, Peter is expecting a blonde from her picture, but what he finds on his doorstep is a included. Charlene was not the woman in the picture, in fact, a spec in the background of the photo of some other woman. She is just out of prison, and in need of legal services. Of course, Charlene begins to seep into all aspects of Peter’s life, including the import deal he is about to close. And as a screenwriter would say, hilarity ensues. Actually, hilarity never really ensues. During the coarse of the film, I remember only laughing hard twice, chuckling a few more times, and as for the rest of the jokes, shaking my head as they fell flat on their face. Steve Martin’s comedy is totally based, and works far best, when he is in unfamiliar situations and on the bad end of all luck. To his credit, and the credit of the writer, this is what was attempted. (Key word: attempted). Unfortunately, the movie never gets any cleverer or move away from the black-white safety jokes. They were so desperate in fact to stay with this line of “comedy” that they had 3 “Steve Martin dancing like a black guy” sequences. After the first 30 minutes of the movie, I was bored with Steve Martin acting black, and even worse, I was not finding anything coming out of Eugene Levy’s mouth to be of any real comedic value. (Except of course, the priceless, “You’ve got me straight trippin’ boo!”) With a talented comedic supporting cast, featuring the comedy legend Betty White, Jean Smart (a favorite of mine), and Eugene Levy was expecting far much more. Yet Betty White is under used, and in a ghastly horrible mistake, they play Jean Smart straight, giving her no comedy bits.

Its not really apparent which demographic Bringing Down the House was aiming for, as Steve Martin appeals to the older crowd, yet the black-white jokes appeal towards the more culturally integrated younger generation. However, Bringing Down the House manages to shift from one bad joke to another is various genres in, what can only be concluded as, an attempt to alienate every single member of the audience. In addition to the black-white jokes, the film dabbles in bathroom humor, the always uproarious and ubiquitous cat fight sequence (which I must admit, I laughed pretty hard during), and in fine tribute to such films as How High, pot jokes! When thinking back, the only moments of true comedy were the scenes of dramatic intent, which were absolutely hilarious as they were so out of place. I felt guilty chuckling to myself as the young daughter of Peter’s calls Charlene for help after a boy attempted to rape her, yet what were they thinking to try to bring up heavy material, then switch back over to physical comedy?

When I think of stand up comics turned actors, a select few come to mind. Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, and of course Steve Martin. Of those four, only Steve Martin has yet to leave the comfort of his safety zone. In as many years as Steve Martin has been acting, his performances on the screen and on stage are almost identical as Steve only takes parts in which he plays his comedic self once removed. All the while, Billy Crystal became a romantic comedy lead, starring in such hits as When Harry Met Sally..., and Forget Paris; Robin Williams has been nominated four times for an Oscar, and won once. He even took on three dark roles this past year; and finally Whoopi Goldberg, who also won an Oscar for Ghost, and continues to take different roles. As such, Steve Martin’s comedy has become tiresome, and while I believe he is capable of better, his 20 year string of same character performances is quite a pattern. In Bringing Down the House, he adds just another notch to his belt. Speaking of Oscars, Academy Award nominated Queen Latifah chooses an interesting role as follow up to her Chicago performance. She slips easily into the role of Charlene, and is poised to become a force in the comedy world if she so chooses. Despite some irritancies I encored with the fleshing out of her character by the writer (for example, her unwillingness and stubborn attitude to help Peter out when he is in a jam), Queen Latifah and her performance of Charlene are the positive notes of the movie. Unfortunately, even Queen Latifah is hung out to dry as the things they make her say are four out of five times inept.

I refuse to believe that the film I just witnessed was from the same script that Eugene Levy, Betty White, and Jean Smart first saw. I believe this because as far as I am concerned, writer Jason Filardi’s screenplay as it stands now on celluloid could never attract even one of those three, let alone all of them. So that leads me to believe that either Freddy Kruger edited the movie, or the director is Freddy Kruger, and wants us to suffer. And believe me, you will suffer. Bringing Down the House has probably eight minutes total of true humor, and the rest of the lengthy 105 minute running time is used to further diminish the comedy standards of the viewing public. As a final observation, isn’t it funny that Steve Martin has stuck with his character routine for twenty years, and Bringing Down the House sticks with its routine of constant black-white jokes for the entire duration?

© 2003 Jacob Sproul

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