DVD Review: Bringing Down the House
by R.J. Carter
Published: August 10, 2003
Running time: 105 minutes.
Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin) is an uptight white tax lawyer who surrounds himself with nothing but uptight white people. Charlene Morton (Queen Latifah) is a sister from "da hood" who knows how to get jiggy with it.
Stereotypes collide when Peter's online discussions with Charlene in a legal-themed chatroom evolve into a real-life meet. Charlene, however, turns out to be nothing like Peter's expectations. After initially trying to ditch her, Peter is finally forced to listen to Charlene's plea. It seems she was wrongfully arrested for an armed robbery, and she wants Peter to clear her name. That is, after all, what tax lawyers do, isn't it?
Apparently it is, because Peter takes the case, if only to keep Charlene quiet and out of sight of his neighbors, including the elderly Mrs. Kline (Betty White) who sweetly makes Archie Bunker look like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Add to this mix Peter's racist ex-sister-in-law, Ashley (Missi Pyle) and a similarly racist heiress/client (Joan Plowright), and one starts to wonder just what part of Caucasia this film's characters emigrated from.
Thankfully, the film is saved by the presence of Peter's co-worker Howie Rottman (Eugene Levy), who develops a case of jungle fever for Charlene and delivers black culture lingo with his usual deadpan voice. "Tell her the cool points are all out the window and she's got me all twisted up in the game." Hilarious! A movie that focused on a romantic relationship between Latifah and Levy would be three times the movie this one was.
As the show progresses, Peter finds out that Charlene wasn't just jailed for armed robbery--she's an escaped convict as well. But Charlene insists on her innocence, and when Peter stumbles onto evidence that proves her story, he takes it upon himself to wander into gang territory and get a confession from the real villain--which puts him in a situation where he needs Charlene as much as she needs him.
There are some rewarding subplots, notably how Charlene's more relaxed outlook influences Peter in reconnecting with his son and teen-aged daughter, as well as rekindling the romance between him and his ex-wife Kate (Jean Smart). But ultimately, the film becomes a story that is watchable without being memorable (Smallville fans can keep a sharp eye out for Michael Rosenbaum as a smarmy up-and-coming attorney after Peter's job). The good bits make it worth having in your home video collection. The bad bits, however, make it worth your while to wait until you can find a cheaper copy in used condition.
Once you get to the menu (after one of the longest intros I've ever seen to a DVD movie), you can access the bonus material:
Breaking Down Bringing Down The House: This features several behind-the-scenes shots, and interviews with Queen Latifah, Steve Martin, Adam shankman, Ashok Amritraj and just about everyone else. As extra features go, this one was surprisingly interesting.
The Godfather of Hop: U.G.-Dub. Who is he? He's Eugene Levy, of course, the King of Hip-Hop! This mockumentary details the hip-hop contributions (including, apparently, choreography) Levy made to the film.
Queen Latifah Music Video - "Better Than The Rest": Once again, we see Eugene Levy courting Queen Latifah, inviting her to his jacuzzi, before she breaks into her song. The video incorporates scenes from the movie, set in a framework of Queen Latifah driving down the road.
There are also several deleted scenes, the obligatory gag reel, and audio commentary by Adam Shankman and writer Jason Filardi.