Bringing Down the House (4)

 Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley


Poor Steve Martin.  As far as Iím concerned he ranks with Richard Pryor as the funniest standup comedian ever.  His SNL monologues from the late Ď70s and his essays in The New Yorker are exceptional.  But, unlike Pryor, he has yet to make a good movie.  His acting was the best thing in The Spanish Prisoner, but the Mamet script was so poorly planned that the ending made a mockery of what came before. His best film was Father of the Bride, which paled into insignificance when compared with the Spencer Tracy-Elizabeth Taylor original, leading me to wonder for the nth time why they remake a classic.  The remake is never as good.

 People told me that Bringing Down the House was funny, so I went, expecting, finally, a Martin breakthrough.  Lamentably, Martin is still awaiting his breakthrough.  This thing is excruciating.  Queen Latifah does her best to save it, but the weak script is full of pejorative stereotypes.  It shows all elderly white ladies as hopelessly racist.  Black people are all jive-talking rappers.  Martinís children are so ridiculously drawn they look like refugees from The Munsters.

 Director Adam Shankman tries to create comedy by Martinís frustration with Latifahís outrageous behavior, ala Cary Grant in his screwball comedies with Kathryn Hepburn and Irene Dunne.  Alas, failure is complete.  Grant was effortlessly funny.  Martin is obviously working hard to try to be funny, and that donít work, baby.

 The story is ludicrous (but that doesnít necessarily condemn it to being dreadful; a lot of successful, entertaining comedies are based on ludicrous premises).  A good script, competent directing, and accomplished acting can turn a ludicrous premise into a winning entertainment.  Here, Latifah, an escapee from prison, invades attorney Martinís household, trying to get him to help her get her conviction overturned, thereby threatening Martinís relatively placid life and influencing his relationships with his clients, his children and the wife from whom he is separated. 

 Although there are a few chuckles, there arenít nearly enough to sustain 105 minutes of this, which seems interminable.  While Iím sure that some people will enjoy Bringing Down The House, when I have to sit through stuff like this I wonder whether the people creating it ever actually sat through a screening and had it dawn on them, ďGee, maybe this is 20 minutes too long.Ē  Actually, this is 105 minutes too long.

 March 15, 2003

 The End