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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Adam Shankman
Cast:
Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy
Writing Credits:
Jason Filardi

Tagline:
Everything he needed to know about life, she learned in prison.

Synopsis:
The hilarious Steve Martin (Father of the Bride) and Academy Award nominee Queen Latifah (Chicago) star with Eugene Levy (American Pie) in the laugh-out-loud hit comedy Bringing Down the House.

Peter Sanderson (Martin), a divorced, straight-laced, uptight, workaholic attorney, meets a brainy, bombshell lawyer in an online chat room and they make a date. Expecting his soul mate, he opens the door and finds himself face-to-face with Charlene (Latifah) - a wild and crazy soul sister who's just escaped from prison and wants Peter to clear her name. But Peter wants absolutely nothing to do with her, and that prompts Charlene to turn Peter's perfectly ordered life totally upside down. Hysterical complications abound and Peter soon finds out he may need Charlene just as much as she needs him. It's a houseful of fun your family will enjoy again and again.

Box Office:
Budget $35 million.
Opening Weekend
$31.101 million on 2801 screens.
Domestic Gross
$132.406 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 105 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 8/5/2003

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director Adam Shankman and Writer Jason Filardi
• Deleted Scenes
• Gag Reel
• “Breaking Down Bringing Down the House” Featurette
• “The Godfather of Hop” Featurette
• Music Video
• Sneak Peeks


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Bringing Down The House (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 30, 2003)

Recently I tried to get a friend to watch Bowfinger with me. Although she loves Steve Martin, she refused because she stated she wouldn’t watch any Eddie Murphy movies from after 1986. I can’t totally argue this point – Eddie’s made a lot of crap over the years – but I think it’s a pretty close-minded attitude.

And it might be placed on the wrong actor. Steve Martin hasn’t exactly cranked out the hits over the last decade or so, and although it earned a surprising amount of money, 2003’s Bringing Down the House doesn’t stand out as a gem on his résumé.

Lawyer Peter Sanderson (Martin) meets Charlene in a legal chatroom. The lonely divorced man hits it off with her and they agree to meet. In the meantime, he disappoints his kids when he cancels plans to go with them to Hawaii to court a wealthy but cantankerous old woman named Mrs. Arness (Joan Plowright) whose business his company seeks. Peter always blows off his home life for work, which causes friction and distance.

With all these personal issues, Peter and Charlene hook up, and he finds out she’s not quite what he expected. Instead of the trim, proper young blonde, she turns out to be a boisterous, street-wise African-American ex-con (Queen Latifah). She misrepresented herself to land a lawyer to reopen her armed robbery case, as she claims that she didn’t do it. Peter gives her the boot, but she refuses to leave until he agrees to do what she wants.

Charlene poses as the kids’ nanny in polite company, and they try to keep her presence a secret from Peter’s nosy, bigoted neighbor (Betty White). Peter has to juggle her issues while he cares for his kids while his wife’s away and also tries to land the Arness account. Charlene infiltrates Peter’s life and teaches everyone how to loosen up and have fun. Peter’s coworker Howie (Eugene Levy) falls for Charlene and gets in the jungle fever groove.

Wow – what an incredible concept! Uptight white people learn how to “really live” after a down-to-earth soul sister comes in their lives. House is the kind of flick that wants us to believe it’s progressive but it’s really quite condescending and close-minded.

Like most of these sorts of projects, House wants to have its cake and eat it too. On one hand, it makes Charlene an outrageously stereotypical ghetto gal, and the flick sure loves its street humor. On the other, the movie makes sure that we know Charlene’s really smart and dignified – unlike all those other African-Americans, I suppose.

No, House never states that theme quite so bluntly, but it feels that way. It seems like we’re supposed to see Charlene as an exception; she may be street, but she’s really intelligent and a good person. Can a movie that tries to make blacks look good still be racist? Yeah, I think so. House feels like a Don Rickles routine; it attacks cultures but then says “Just kidding!” at the end.

I don’t buy it, especially not in this day and age. The humor of House feels like a vestige of the Seventies, back when shows like Good Times and The Jeffersons pushed this sort of material as socially relevant and progressive. At the time, it was, for examples of normal African-Americans in the popular media seemed limited. Sure, the characters barely rose above stereotypes themselves, but it still pushed things forward.

House seems like a regression to me. Maybe it’d work better if some of it actually came across as funny, but unfortunately, the gags almost unilaterally fall flat. Didn’t the sight of white people acting ghetto get old when Norman Lear was in his prime?

Sadly, Martin’s stint in that mode actually offers some of House’s best moments, which reflects more on the poor quality of the rest of the film than it does the funniness of the scene itself. Martin and the others sure try their best to make this turkey fly, but they can’t overcome the outdated and humorless situations and gags. The film reaches its nadir with an excessively long and totally tasteless catfight scene. (Frighteningly, we learn during the audio commentary that this segment originally was much longer!)

I can’t claim that I anticipated much from Bringing Down the House before I saw it, but unfortunately, this terrible movie failed to live up to my low expectations. The flick lacks many signs of life or genuine humor. It’s nice to see a new generation get into a Steve Martin movie, but I wish he’d gained that audience with something more entertaining.


The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B-

Bringing Down the House appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture didn’t seem immaculate, but it came across as consistently positive.

Sharpness was good most of the time. Some wide shots displayed a slight amount of softness, but those examples occurred rarely. Most of the movie looked distinct and detailed. No issues related to jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, but I did see a bit of edge enhancement at times. Print flaws looked virtually absent. Some grain popped up at times, and I saw one or two small specks, but otherwise the flick was clean and fresh.

House featured a natural and warm palette that seemed well reproduced here. The colors came across as rich and full at all times, and I noticed no problems connected to bleeding, noise or other issues. Black levels were deep and tight, while low-light situations appeared well defined and accurate. Overall, House presented a consistently attractive image.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Bringing Down the House seemed less satisfying, partially due to a lack of ambition. The soundfield maintained a pretty firm balance toward the forward speakers. Music showed decent stereo imaging, and the effects provided a fairly involving sense of atmosphere. However, the track rarely expanded beyond general environment. Some directional elements popped up, and the mix gave a fair feeling of place, but little about it went beyond that level. The surrounds contributed a bit of reinforcement to the setting, and they came to life most strongly during segments like those at a club. Otherwise, the track appeared pretty subdued.

Audio quality was acceptable but lacked much energy. Speech mostly sounded distinct and accurate, and the lines always remained intelligible, but more than a slight amount of edginess crept into the track at times. Music seemed reasonably concise but lacked tremendous range. The score and songs presented decent but unspectacular low-end most of the time; some of the more bass-heavy tunes presented a better punch, but those occasions occurred infrequently. Effects came across as accurate and fairly full but not anything more than that. The audio for House seemed passable but lackluster for a modern movie.

The DVD of Bringing Down the House includes a pretty good set of supplements. We open with an audio commentary from director Adam Shankman and writer Jason Filardi. The pair sit together for this running, screen-specific track. The two clearly maintain a friendship and that tone comes through well during this fairly amusing and lively piece. The guys make fun of each other and keep things light and jokey. As for actual information, we get some decent notes about changes made from the script and other improvs and alterations as well as material about sets and locations, working with the actors, and general anecdotes. Too much of the track tells us little more than general praise for the film and the participants, but it still comes across as a pretty fun and entertaining discussion.

Next we find a short documentary called Breaking Down Bringing Down the House. This 16-minute and 31-second program provides the standard mix of shots from the set, movie snippets, and sound bites. We get remarks from director Shankman, actors Queen Latifah, Kimberly J. Brown, Eugene Levy, Missi Pyle, Joan Plowright, Betty White, and Angus T. Jones, and producers Ashok Amritaj and David Hoberman. Abandon hope all ye who hope for something more than the usual fluffy promotional program. Mostly this featurette tells us how great all the participants are and how funny the movie is. Some of the behind the scenes bits had potential, but they fly past so quickly they make little impact. Skip this waste of time.

The very tongue in cheek The Godfather of Hop runs two minutes, 56 seconds, and purports that actor Eugene Levy heavily influenced rap. It shows movie bits, shots from the set, and interviews with Shankman, Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Levy, and choreographer Anne Fletcher. They tell us of all Levy’s “talents” in this marginally amusing piece.

A music video for Queen Latifah’s “Better Than the Rest” comes next. It starts promisingly with some new bits between Latifah and Eugene Levy, but it quickly becomes little more than the usual boring lip-synch/movie clip combination. The three-minute and 59-second gag reel gives us some of the standard goof-ups and wackiness, but it doesn’t include anything memorable.

The seven deleted scenes run a total of eight minutes and 23 seconds. Mostly these provide expository bits. Nothing special appears, though fans might like the small added moments.

As the DVD starts, we encounter a mix of ads. We find trailers for The Lion King, Freaky Friday, Shanghai Knights, and Chicago. Unusually, the DVD provides no “Sneak Peeks” section with these ads and others.

While it was nice to see Steve Martin ride high on the box office charts again, I wish this occurred via a more entertaining vehicle. Bringing Down the House seems crass and unfunny, and its cast of solid performers can’t help escalate the predictable and uninspired material. The DVD presents very good picture quality along with mediocre audio and a decent but unexceptional complement of extras. A competent DVD for a terrible movie, I can’t recommend Bringing Down the House to anyone who doesn’t already know they love the flick.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5909 Stars Number of Votes: 22
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