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Bringing Down the House

People shouldn't meet online. Really, you have no idea who you're talking to, your prospective date probably is lying to you about all sorts of things, and when you meet it's likely going to be a disappointment. And people especially shouldn't meet online in movies. Sure, sometimes cute folks like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan get the hookup. But most of the time we'll probably wind up with Bringing Down the House (2003), movie that isn't just bad, but actually performs a social disservice — in this case, to the tune of $132 million. Steve Martin stars as Peter Sanderson, a divorced tax attorney with two kids who's trying to re-establish a social life. And as it happens, he meets a prospective date in a legal chat-room on the Internet — "lawyer-girl," as she calls herself, even sends Peter a photo of her tall, blonde skinny self. But when Peter's blind date actually turns out to be Charlene Morton (Queen Latifah), a recently released ex-con, he tries to hustle her out of his trendy upper-middle-class neighborhood. The only problem is that Charlene refuses to go anywhere until Peter helps her with her legal appeal, putting Peter's upcoming account with wealthy heiress Mrs. Arness (Joan Plowright) at risk. If you're just in the mood to tune out with a movie and not give it a lot of thought, Bringing Down the House might be your ticket — the setup is fairly broad, as are the silly situations to be found throughout the movie. But if you actually like comedy that takes a few jabs at your well-worn expectations, House actually borders on the offensive — it practically sets back race relations a good 40 years. Case in point: Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder star in that classic comedy as a couple of buddies out west — one white, one black — who are subjected to racial (and other) stereotypes and yet rise above them to prevail in the end (Little takes himself hostage and acts "crazy"; the two dress up as Klansmen; etc.). Every gag sets up a stereotype as society's collective reality and then undermines it, because we in the audience are smart enough to know that white folk and black folk can get along, and want to get along. It's actually a very cathartic movie. But in Bringing Down the House, the stereotypes are the reality. Peter is too uptight and needs Charlene to loosen him up so he can get back together with his ex-wife. Charlene is loud, pushy, and often about as pleasant to be around as a stuck car-horn. The neighbor across the street (Betty White) is a horrible racist and also tells Peter's young son he "looks like a fag" (the "joke" apparently being that even the nicest-seeming white folks are bigots), and the heiress Mrs. Arness is even worse. And as the plot thickens with Charlene hoping to catch the guy who set her up, Peter winds up in a club with a bunch of gun-totin' gangstas while Mrs. Arness smokes some weed with the brothers. It's a film that practically could get slapped with a federal case for racial profiling. But for those who are willing to wade in a shallow pool of obvious humor, House already has proven itself a popular choice. Martin is not in top form, but he's one of the few comic actors who fits well in this sort of role, and Queen Latifah's screen presence is undeniably appealing (and sexy). But only the underutilized Eugene Levy is a comic standout in this one as a nebbish tax-attorney with a serious case of jungle fever — his flawless hiphoporisms are always delivered with a straight face. Buena Vista's DVD release of Bringing Down the House features a clean anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (English, French) and English captioning. Supplements include a commentary from director Adam Shankman, the luvvies-packed featurette "Breaking Down Bringing Down the House" (16 min.), seven deleted scenes, a gag reel, a Queen Latifah music video, and a gag featurette on Eugene Levy's hip-hop career. Keep-case.

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