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Bringing Down the House Print E-mail
Tuesday, 05 August 2003

Bringing Down The House

Touchstone Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: PG-13
starring: Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Jean Smart, Joan Plowright
release year: 2003
film rating: Four Stars
sound/picture: Four Stars
reviewed by: Mel Odom

Many people remember Steve Martin from his stand-up comedy days and from his appearances on “Saturday Night Live,” but the actor’s greatest chance for everlasting fame may well be the movies he’s made about families. “Bringing Down The House” doesn’t quite reach the same level of execution as “Father of the Bride” or its sequel, or of the tender romantic moments laced with comedy in “Roxanne.” Still, the movie is an enjoyable romp that pairs Martin with Queen Latifah, who stands as a comedic power as well.

Martin plays Peter Sanderson, an overworked workaholic attorney who’s divorced and unhappy. His wife (Jean Smart) kept the house and the kids, and Peter has visitation privileges, which never seem to go the way he intends because he constantly disappoints the children. Chapter 1 opens up with light and breezy music that harkens back to the Doris Day movies of the ‘60s. Peter corresponds with Charlene, whom he believes to be another attorney, and with whom he’s conferred about a client, as well as other legal matters.

Moving swiftly, the film sets up the rest of Peter’s life, quickly establishing the threat of a younger attorney (“Smallville’s” Michael Rosenbaum) who’s prepared to take over Peter’s client list if he misses a step, and his best friend Howie, played by Eugene Levy with the impeccable and incredible dry humor laced with gonzo that he delivers so well. When the young lawyer makes his move to seize an important and extremely rich client, Peter fends him off without breaking a sweat. Unfortunately, saving the deal also means that Peter can’t take the kids to Hawaii as he’d promised. Adding insult to injury, when Peter meets his new client, an old woman, Mrs. Arness (Joan Plowright), who inherited her millions, she tells him she’s glad the firm saw fit to send an attorney her age.

Chapter 2 introduces Peter’s home life, complete with ditzy neighbor and upper-crust neighborhood. Upbeat jazz music spins through the surround sound system as Peter gets ready to meet Charlene after weeks of talking to her via email and staring holes in her picture. When she arrives, however, Charlene is not the woman featured so prominently in the picture he received through email. Charlene is black, brassy, and newly released from prison.

Charlene tells Peter that she was locked up for a bank robbery that she did not commit and that the case they’d been conferring on together of late is her own. She wants him to clear her record. Peter gets Charlene outside and locks the doors, panicked about how personally close the whole situation has become. Then Charlene starts a scene out in the front yard, setting dogs to howling through the left and right front speakers of the surround sound system. Talking quickly, Charlene blackmails Peter into letting her stay the night.

Chapter 3 opens with a loud snoring noise coming from the right front speaker and eventually lighting up the subwoofer as the sound reaches truly epic proportions. As Peter tracks the noise down, the viewer is pulled along afterwards, discovering that the noise is coming from Charlene.

After tricking Charlene into exiting the house, Peter goes to visit his ex-wife and pick up the kids. Unfortunately, his wife has an added dimension in her life these days: a young boyfriend who used to caddy for Peter back when he had time for golf. Already down, Peter is further upset when he returns home to find that Charlene has started a house party that has taken over his house and spilled out into the street. Hip-hop music slams through the surround sound system and sets the subwoofer to throbbing. The best use of the Dolby 5.1 layered into the DVD is the soundtrack. Every time loud party music underscores the story, it blasts through the surround system.

In Chapter 4, Charlene shows up at Peter’s club where he’s meeting with his new client. The “Jungle Love” sequence spins like liquid gold through the surround sound, putting the viewer into the middle of the scene and jacking up the hilarity level. Just as Peter is trying desperately to get Charlene out of the club and Howie is trying to put the make on her, Mrs. Arness shows up. Working quickly, Charlene proves herself a shrewd negotiator as she forces Peter to agree to look into her case. Peter passes Charlene off as his babysitter.

The story continues to wind tighter to a degree once the bargain is struck, but whirls off in other avenues as well. Peter’s tramp sister-in-law takes an instant dislike to Charlene, and in Chapter 5 their volatile natures burst free in an all-out girl fight that needs to be seen to be believed. Most viewers will love a remote control at this point, because few will be able to pass up the chance to back up the DVD and watch the sequence again. Maybe even again and again. Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” crashes through the surround sound to underscore the action, and the subwoofer emphasizes the impacts. And at the end, Charlene borrows a memorable line from “Bodyguard” that fits perfectly.

Chapters 6 and 7 recall Sinbad’s “Houseguest” and John Candy’s “Uncle Buck,” playing a familiar riff where Charlene sets out to solve the family’s problems, which include little Georgie’s reading disability and Peter’s and his daughter’s dating issues. Unfortunately, Charlene uses a men’s magazine to encourage little Georgie’s reading habits. She also agrees to go out with Peter, who’s gotten left behind by his kids as they go off with their friends.

The restaurant scene in Chapter 6 starts out demure, but Charlene soon has Peter out on the dance floor teaching him moves. When she does, the music crescendos, screaming through the surround sound system again. Chapter 7 showcases Charlene’s confrontation with Peter’s daughter’s boyfriend. The music is loud there as well, and the boyfriend’s screams rip through the speakers as Charlene brings her message home.

The rest of the movie progresses nicely, following conventional and comfortable twists and turns. Howie’s attraction to Charlene remains a constant source of levity as the stakes in Peter and Charlene’s life get raised. Peter’s attempt to get into the ‘hood to discover the truth about Charlene’s guilt in Chapter 11 is almost worth the price of the DVD alone, and certainly is worth the rental fee.

The extras on the DVD package pass muster. The commentary by director Adam Shankman and writer Jason Filardi covers a lot of ground and gives some insight into how the picture came together. The gag reel is a hoot and shows that the chemistry between the stars wasn’t confined to their performances. The Queen Latifah music video pumps up the volume for the surround sound system user. Eugene Levy’s “The Godfather of Hop” is definitely not to be missed. Levy always delivers comedy a million different ways, even though he generally sticks to the same kind of anal-retentive character no matter which movie he’s in.

“Bringing Down The House” is a great movie for an evening at home. A viewer just wanting light entertainment or a couple wanting a quiet night together or a family looking for solid entertainment in a PG-13 format will enjoy this movie. Steve Martin fans will want to pick the DVD up for the funky Steve dance in Chapter 11 alone, and this is some of Queen Latifah’s best acting so far.

more details
sound format:
English 5.1 Dolby Surround; French Language Track
aspect ratio(s):
2.35:1, Enhanced For 16x9 Televisions
special features: Deleted Scenes; Gag Reel; “Breaking Down ‘Bringing Down the House’ ” Behind-The-Scenes; Queen Latifah Music Video “Better Than The Rest”; “The Godfather of Hop” Featurette (a close-up look at Eugene Levy with tongue firmly planted in cheek); “Da’ Commentary” With Director Adam Shankman And Writer Jason Filardi; English Closed-Captioning
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Pioneer DV-C302D
receiver: RCA RT2280
main speakers: RCA RT2280
center speaker: RCA RT2280
rear speakers: RCA RT2280
subwoofer: RCA RT2280
monitor: 42-inch Toshiba HD Projection TV

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