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'Bringing Down the House'

Martin, Latifah rock the 'House'

Friday, March 07, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Steve Martin and Queen Latifah really do bring down the house. If Martin does half as well on the 75th annual Academy Awards, he might join Billy Crystal in the hosting hall of fame.

 
 
'BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE'

RATING: PG-13 for language, sexual humor and drug content

STARRING: Steve Martin, Queen Latifah

DIRECTOR: Adam Shankman

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At times during a preview of "Bringing Down the House," the audience laughed so loud and long that you couldn't hear the dialogue that followed a particularly funny passage or line. And apparently people just can't get enough of Eugene Levy, the bespectacled not-so-straight arrow cooing, "You got me straight trippin' Boo." Or any of the other lines that seem to spring from the new "Hip-Hoptionary" guide.

The comedy stars Martin as Peter Sanderson, a workaholic tax lawyer in Los Angeles who put the white in WASP. He begins an e-mail correspondence with a woman from a law-related chatroom and arranges to meet "lawyer-girl." She's not the expected skinny blonde in the foreground of the photo she forwarded but Charlene (Queen Latifah), the buxom African-American woman in prison blues in the back.

When Charlene shows up in his conservative Pasadena neighborhood, she is quickly shown the door but finagles her way back into the house and his life. She wants her record as a convicted felon expunged and he has a long list of relationships to tend or mend: with his two children, a stuffy but wealthy British client (Joan Plowright) and the ex-wife (Jean Smart) he still loves.

"Bringing Down the House," directed by Adam Shankman who did "The Wedding Planner" and written by first-timer Jason Filardi, is one of those movies where an outsider teaches the insiders what everyone refuses to acknowledge. That Peter needs to win back his wife, that he needs to pay more attention to his teenage daughter and 8-year-old son and that he works in a place where everyone seems unhappy.

Martin is light on his feet in every way here, including a sort of dance-off in a South Central nightclub. That same hip-hop haunt gives reluctant patron Plowright the chance to loosen up a bit and generate some howls of her own.

Latifah, who does one of the many showstoppers in "Chicago" with "When You're Good to Mama," provides the right measure of sass and snap as Charlene. If you're put off by the delivery of her line, "Who dere?" when awakened unexpectedly, she has a nice scene where she demonstrates she could conform in her conversational style but doesn't want to.

"Bringing Down the House" turns a couple of the supporting players into broader than broad comic relief. Betty White plays a racist neighbor and Peter's former sister-in-law (Missi Pyle) is a gold digger who demonstrates her Tae-Bo skills on Charlene in an over-the-top skirmish.

"Bringing," which milks mainstream society's penchant for borrowing music, catch phrases and clothing from the hip-hop world, holds few surprises and gets a bit off track in its last reel. It also seems to end and then end and end again, for good measure.

But it's a tonic during a winter when we could all use a welcome escape from the real world and a good laugh. Or two. Or three. ...


Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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