Bringing Down the House

(2003) * Pg-13
105 min. Touchstone Pictures. Director: Adam Shankman. Cast: Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright, Jean Smart.

Let's play a little game. Name this movie. Middle-aged white bread comic stars as a surburban schlub whose home is overrun by a con artist who won't leave. Houseguest (1995) with Phil Hartman and Sinbad? HouseSitter (1992) with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn? No, Bringing Down the House (2003) with Martin, again, and Queen Latifah. I expect Two-Story House to arrive in 2008, starring Kevin Pollak and Halle Berry, but if someone would be so kind as to smother me with a pillow when that happens, I'd appreciate it.

Latifah co-executive produced this distasteful jaw-dropper, an ignominious follow-up to her first Oscar nomination (for Chicago). She plays Charlene Morton, who bursts into the life of Peter Sanderson clad entirely in denim cutoffs and jive-talking up a storm. Sanderson was expecting the petite blond woman he thought he met in an internet chat room, but in fact she's a con artist who won't leave. Where have I heard that before?

Obviously this premise needs even more dressing up than Martin and Latifah can muster, so screenwriter Jason Filardi--who, by the way, should never work in this town again--throws in not one but two racist senior women. One, played by Betty White, is also homophobic, the other is Joan Plowright as a stuffy Brit toting a dog named Shakespeare. Both actresses are thoroughly embarrassed by ugly, eyebrow-raising "jokes," but especially Plowright, who must enthusiastically sing at a family dinner table, "Mamma, is massah gonna sell us tomorrow?", prompting murderous thoughts from a knife-wielding Latifah.

If you subject yourself to Bringing Down the House, you'll also be treated to a prolonged, brutal fight between Latifah and Martin's bitchy sister-in-law Ashley (Missi Pyle), respected actor Steve Harris in a throwaway thug role, TV's Lex Luthor Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville) pathetically mugging around a bad hairpiece, and (drop the balloons!) the one-millionth laxative gag of the last twenty years. Martin splits with Eugene Levy (in the buddy role) an accumulation of "white guy speaking the black lingo" jokes. For his part, Levy spouts, "Swing it, you cocoa goddess," "I'm all over it, G," and "You got me straight trippin', boo," among dozens of others. I wish I could say it gets funnier and funnier, but at least Levy emerges unscathed (the only other person involved who manages that feat is veteran composer Lalo Schifrin, who contributes an old-fashioned, sprightly score).

More offensive than any of the bad jokes is the comedic emasculation of Martin, which will make you feel like a starving dog rooting around for scraps of the "wild and crazy guy"'s missing-in-action originality. He squeezes out a few bursts of his beloved physical comedy, but most of what he tries here falls painfully flat. By the time director Adam Shankman forces Martin to reenact a second-generation copy of a sequence from Bulworth, right down to Warren Beatty's cartoonish, rap-styled costume, you'll empathize with Plowright's appropriation from Dorothy Parker: "What fresh hell is this?"

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 5/15/2012

Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures Home Entertainment

Disney gives Bringing Down the House an impressive Blu-ray upgrade in this 10th Anniversary Edition. Picture quality is outstanding, with beautiful color representation and strong detail and texture; black level can go a bit grey in low-light moments, but this could be a transfer of a new film, as opposed to a decade-old one. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix, on the other hand, shows its age: even for a comedy, the surround channels aren't very lively; it's mostly a front-heavy presentation, with clear dialogue and decent music but little in the way of a dynamic surround soundscape.

"Breaking Down Bringing Down the House" (16:33, SD) includes behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with director Adam Shankman, producers David Hoberman and Ashok Amritraj, Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, et al.

"The Godfather of Hop" (2:57, SD) is a mock-doc featurette proposing Eugene Levy as a hip-hop mogul.

"Better Than the Rest" (3:44, SD) is a Queen Latifah music video.

Four "Deleted Scenes" (4:10 with "Play All" option, SD) include "Ashley Spies on Charlene," "More Golfing with Arness," "Howie confronts Peter on Humping," "Charlene Bitch Slaps Mike." 

Last up is the film's "Gag Reel" (4:00, SD).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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