Bringing Down The House

“Bringing Down the House,” the new film from director Adam Shankman, is lively, jazzy and spirited. Although it registers as perhaps a 1 on an intellectual scale, it’s just a rockin’ good time at the movies.

Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin) is a straight-laced, white tax attorney. He is divorced from his ex-wife Kate (Jean Smart), who he still loves. Peter and Kate also have two children, Sarah (Kimberly J. Brown) and Georgey (Angus T. Jones). Sarah is becoming a rebellious teenager, and Georgey doesn’t know how to read. Peter doesn’t really understand how to connect with his children. We also see that Peter has become Internet pen pals with a supposed lawyer named Charlene, who uses sophisticated legal jargon. She sends Peter a picture of her, and we see that she is a tall, beautiful blonde woman. They make plans to meet at Peter’s house.

Peter is bewildered when Charlene Morton (Queen Latifah) shows up at his door. Charlene is a big, sassy African-American ex-convict who claims that she is innocent. She disrupts Peter’s life, but he is about to get a big client in the form of Mrs. Arness (Joan Plowright), a snooty old woman. Peter promises he will work on Charlene’s case and give her a place to stay if she stays out of the way most of the time. Peter’s best friend, Howie (Eugene Levy) ends up falling for Charlene, and Charlene helps Peter get in touch with his children, and helps him try to get back with his wife. But is Charlene the lovable woman she makes herself out to be or is she really a dangerous criminalr

Steve Martin is one of the most gifted comedians of all time. Although he has been much better before, Martin is a wonderful “straight” man to Queen Latifah. The scene where he goes into a ghetto club, acting like a so-called “wigger,” is one of the movie’s highlights. Queen Latifah finally gets a starring role in a major motion picture, after years of playing supporting characters. Coupled with the recent Oscar nomination Latifah just received for “Chicago,” 2003 should be a very good year for her.

Eugene Levy, who is hilarious in everything I’ve ever seen him in, steals all of his scenes, despite the fact the part is underwritten. Jean Smart’s role doesn’t have much substance, but she looks lovely and we can understand why Peter still loves her. Kimberly J. Brown and Angus T. Jones are also OK as the kids. Joan Plowright turns in an unexpected performance as a snooty, rich old hag who ends up getting, how should I say this, “hungry” near the end of the movie. Also turning in a deliciously nasty performances are Missi Pyle and Betty White, as Kate’s bitchy, gold-digging sister, and Peter’s racist neighbor, respectively.

Adam Shankman improves upon his previous pictures, “The Wedding Planner” and “A Walk to Remember,” by a wide margin. “Planner” was a dull romantic comedy, and it seemed Shankman had no eye for comedy whatsoever. Well, Bringing Down the House proves us wrong. This movie is a winner, and you don’t see very many movies that are actually funny, as opposed to fart jokes galore, anymore. “Bringing Down the House” is a hilarious movie that deserves to be seen by many people. I guarantee it will live up to its title when seeing it at the theater. I give it an A-.

The Scorecard

“Bringing Down the House”

Director: Adam Shankman

Screenwriter: Jason Filardi

Producers: Ashok Amritraj, David Hoberman

Executive Producers: Jane Bartleme, Queen Latifah

Cinematographer: Julio Macat

Editor: Jerry Greenberg

Principal Cast: Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Steve Martin, Joan Plowright, Jean Smart

Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1

Running Time: 105 minutes

MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language, sexual humor and drug material

Distributor: Touchstone

Rating: A-