People like Steve Martin. Despite the fact that he doesn't do that many films anymore, I often hear people saying things like, "when's that Steve Martin going to be in another movie again?" Martin's popularity and the pairing of the actor with the talented Queen Latifah would be the only explanation of how "Bringing Down the House" managed to do as well as it did. Now, I would just like an explanation of what the two stars saw in the material.
A rarely funny movie that plays like an extended sitcom, "Bringing Down the House" is largely fueled by tired stereotypes and cliches. Martin plays Peter Sanderson, a lawyer who seeks companionship in a chat room. One night, he prepares for her arrival and opens the door to find Charlene Morton (Latifah), who just broke out of jail and wants Peter to handle her case. He boots her out of the house, she keeps coming back into his life. He returns to his house - she's thrown a house party. He goes to his country club to meet with an important client (Joan Plowright) - she's there.
What happens is plainly obvious - Charlene and Peter finally start respecting each other, his kids really like her, he finally loosens up and renews his relationship with his ex-wife (Jean Smart, whose character has no point and is remarkably dull). Peter's co-worker Howard (Eugene Levy) falls for Charlene, while Peter's sister-in-law becomes suspicious and eventually gets into a brawl with Charlene at the health club in a scene that lasts about three times as long as it should have and feels completely out-of-place to begin with. Things fall apart completely towards the end when Peter tries to go undercover to clear Charlene's name.
The performances energetically try to serve up the awful and often awfully predictable material. Martin's reaction shots still get a surprise laugh now-and-then, but most of this is almost saddening, as clearly Martin is capable and deserving of better. Latifah is pretty good, too (although clearly stronger in "Chicago") and she and Martin make a strong enough pairing to make one wish the screenplay wasn't so bottom-of-the-barrel. "House" does bring a few laughs on occasion, but most of the jokes fall flat or feel stale. Certainly not the finest work from anyone involved.
VIDEO: "Bringing Down the House" is presented by Buena Vista in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The image quality throughout the film seemed to be above average, but lacking a certain something to take it to the next level. Sharpness and detail seemed alright, as the picture seemed moderately well-defined, but didn't show fine detail or much depth to the image.
There weren't any major flaws with the image quality, but little issues occasionally come up. Edge enhancement - light amounts, only - was present in a couple of scenes. Some light specks on the print and grain were also noticed during a few instances. A trace of two of pixelation appeared, as well. On a positive note, colors appeared well-rendered and clean, with no smearing and fine saturation. Overall, a pleasant enough transfer, but nothing about it really stood out.
SOUND: The same goes for the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which couldn't be more ordinary. Although that's expected from a sound mix for a comedy, some ambience would have been enjoyable. Surround use is just about zip, and even the included rap songs on the soundtrack don't have nearly the bass one would expect. Dialogue remains clear throughout, however.
EXTRAS: director Adam Shankman and writer Jason Filardi provide a commentary that's more amusing than the movie itself, as the two clearly have a good time joking about stories from the set, goofing on each other, and talking about casting and working with the actors. The other supplements aren't as fun or informative; a 15-minute featurette is composed of "Happy talk" with a captial H, as the actors yak about how wonderful each other was. Rounding out the platter is a not-funny featurette about how Eugene Levy was a big influence on hip-hop, deleted scenes, a Queen Latifah music vid, a so-so gag reel and ads for other BV pictures.
Final Thoughts: "Bringing Down The House" brings a lot of talent together in the service of a really mediocre screenplay that doesn't succeed in creating characters or comedy. The two lead performances wring a few laughs, but that's it. Buena Vista's DVD offers satisfactory audio/video and supplements. Fans should check out the DVD, but others should try a rental first.
The Film **