Go to Homepage   Bringing Down the House: Raising the Bar on Social Comedy

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Steve Martin knows a thing or two about being funny. After all, this wild and crazy guy co-wrote The Jerk, Roxanne and L.A. Story, confirming his status as the erudite comedian turned Hollywood heavyweight. So it should come as no surprise to his legions of loyal fans that Bringing Down the House proves to be his best comedy since Father of the Bride.

Set in the upper, middle-class suburbs of what appears to be Los Angeles, Bringing Down the House features Martin as Peter Sanderson, a tax attorney recently separated from his wife Kate (Jean Smart). A conservative perfectionist with a silver S-class Mercedes and Mediterranean style bungalow, Sanderson seems to possess everything a man could want -- including a well-groomed, blonde, legal eagle Internet correspondent. At least that's what he thinks until he makes a date to meet this mystery woman and up pops Charlene Morton (Queen Latifah), a wrongfully accused convict hell-bent on "expunging" her criminal record.

Of course, this just provides the springboard for what Martin does best: physical comedy performed with clever athleticism by a man whose razor-sharp wit and intellectual maturity surpass any young, fresh faced, Hollywood humorist Ashton Kutcher, take notice. Steve Martin has now entered the Cineplex, armed with a daffy bit of Jerk-inspired nostalgia that showcases his idiosyncratic -- un-Astaire-like -- dance skills. Martin's antics culminate an uproarious homage to Navin R. Johnson, the rhythmically challenged idiot, who yearned to commandeer the dance floor with smooth, soulful moves a la James Brown but who could only keep time with the king of light orchestra, Maestro Mantovani.

Although diehard Martin fans may scoff at this new comedy and mourn for the deft touch of director Carl Reiner, the fact remains that Bringing Down the House does win huge laughs, largely because of its cast -- particularly the trio of Martin, Latifah and Eugene Levy as Howie Rottman, the lawyer who becomes infatuated with Charlene. While the film exists on a purely superficial level, generating laughs based on farcical slapstick gags. It offers a wry blend of social commentary and point-of-view humor, aimed at destroying racism through conscious realistic observations.

The director, Adam Shankman of The Wedding Planner, succeeds at creating a lighthearted atmosphere filled with non-stop screwball comedy by never loosing sight of his target, the audience. Though some viewers may frown upon an African American spiritual sung by Mrs. Arness (Joan Plowright) and a joke containing an Aunt Jemima punch line, the film neither exploits nor reinforces racial stereotypes. Instead, the movie chooses to focus on an accurate depiction of contemporary characters that leave the audience "straight trippin'."

Latifah's Charlene Morton, the unquestioned ringleader of this hilarious, yet insightful spoof on modern day race relations, serves as the film's moral barometer. She outwits everyone she meets -- especially Peter -- with a unique blend of intelligence and urban know how.

Unlike formulaic films -- think Head of State -- where gratuitous social commentary becomes a technique for incorporating satirical overtures into an already dilapidated plot, Bringing Down the House raises the bar. The movie proves that comedy should be edgy, politically motivated, and most importantly, funny.

Tiffany Sanchez

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