Bringing Down the House

Bringing Down the House

2003, PG-13, 105 min. Directed by Adam Shankman. Starring Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright, Jean Smart, Kimberly J. Brown, Angus T. Jones, Missi Pyle, Betty White, Steve Harris.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 7, 2003

Some fine comedy performances bolster this thinly plotted film (the script is by first-timer Jason Filardi). Queen Latifah, who is also one of the film’s executive producers, continues to strut her talents on the heels of her Oscar-nominated performance in Chicago. Though she does not sing in this film, she does display her proficiency with physical humor while also exuding a confidence that seemingly declares her the queen of all she surveys. To her credit, she succeeds in bringing out the comedic best in Steve Martin: He is funnier in Bringing Down the House than he has been in any movie in a long time. Martin also resorts to more physical humor here, reminding us of the "wild and crazy" guy we once knew before he became an acclaimed novelist, playwright, and New Yorker writer. And Eugene Levy, as has now become commonplace, steals virtually every scene he’s in with his deadpan delivery and tongue firmly planted in cheek. Anyone with a television by now has seen the onslaught of commercials for Bringing Down the House, and is familiar with its premise of the escaped con (Latifah) who latches on to the lawyer she meets in an online chat room (Martin) in order to clear her name of her false imprisonment. There’s nothing about the setup that requires the story to stretch on for as many sequences as it does, and director Shankman (The Wedding Planner) does nothing to brighten the proceedings. It hardly takes the skills of an attorney to figure out who framed her. But that would interfere with the movie’s comic objectives – the collision of black thugworld attitude and white upper-class reserve. Bringing Down the House dances very near the line of racial insult, although it’s tempered by its "equal time" distribution of zingers. The movie features a couple of out-and-out racists – Betty White as a horrified suburban neighbor and Joan Plowright as the dowager legal client who finds it acceptable to break out into old slave spirituals at the dinner table. The movie’s real revelation is young Kimberly J. Brown as Martin’s daughter; she’s a deft teen actor who’s bound to pop up more often in the future. Otherwise, Bringing Down the House is the equivalent of a fast-food meal – everyone seems to love it, it slides down in a hurry, imparts few nutrients, and has us skipping back the next day hungry for more. Rarely do we stop to ask why.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Adam Shankman Films
What Men Want
Because we needed a remake of What Women Want, apparently

Steve Davis, Feb. 15, 2019

Rock of Ages
Tom Cruise playing a dissolute rock god is the main attraction of this jukebox musical.

Marjorie Baumgarten, June 15, 2012

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
This Job Will Change Your Life
This Job Will Change Your Life
Former staff reflect on the zigs and zags of life post-Chronicle

Sept. 3, 2021

Nomadland
Story of America's itinerant population wanders too much

Feb. 19, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Bringing Down the House, Adam Shankman, Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright, Jean Smart, Kimberly J. Brown, Angus T. Jones, Missi Pyle, Betty White, Steve Harris

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle