Bringing Down the House (2003)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy of Errors, Crime Comedy, Odd Couple Film  |   Release Date - Mar 7, 2003 (USA)  |   Run Time - 105 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Review by Perry Seibert

Pulling off a comedy about race relations is difficult. In order for it to work, everyone's assumptions and stereotypes must be skewered. Bringing Down the House only supplies half the equation. Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin) makes false assumptions about what Charlene Morton (Queen Latifah) thinks, knows, and is. The problem is that Charlene does not make these same stereotypical assumptions about Peter. Since only Peter is required to change, the film loses half of its potential comedy right away. When the film attempts to play with stereotypes the laughter almost always comes at the expense of Martin's character. When Charlene adopts a "proper" speaking voice the audience laughs at Peter's inability to understand why she doesn't always speak that way. When Peter dresses up like a young Black man and goes to a club, the audience is encouraged to laugh at how stupid he looks precisely because he seems so uncomfortable. Only in Eugene Levy, as the very white friend of Peter who is madly in love Charlene, does the film find the perfect balance. He speaks in urban slang with a very "white" voice, but because he does so with a natural ease the audience does not laugh at him. The laughter when he is onscreen comes from the viewer's facing their own prejudices because they are unable to integrate the man's actions with his appearance. Levy and Latifah make much of the material more palatable than it might have been otherwise, but Bringing Down the House falls well short of being as funny or as smart as it should have been.