Bringing Down the House

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By Mark Ramsey | 2003/03/09

In the case of the State v. “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public,” Bringing Down the House is Exhibit A.

You might ask: Why waste more time writing about a movie than was invested in writing it in the first place? The answer is simple: This weekend alone, $30 million worth of American moviegoers are damned fools.

You won’t laugh ’til it hurts, but it will definitely hurt ’til you laugh. It’s side-splitting, knee-slapping, and belly-aching fun the same way that a pounding headache has a good beat and you can dance to it.

“This movie is for old people,” my wife accurately noted, as the hopelessly dated orchestral soundtrack revved up as if to promise the return of Rock Hudson and Susan St. James in “McMillan and Wife.”

Listen up, any movie featuring the hits of Rufus and Chaka Khan, Morris Day and the Time, and Robert Palmer certainly has its bony, wrinkled finger on the pulse of what kids want to see nowadays.

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Much to its credit, Bringing Down the House already tops the American Film Institute’s list of the “100 Comedies for which Hollywood should be Most Ashamed.”

There’s not a joke here you haven’t heard before, and that’s if you can find a joke here. “I thought I heard Negro,” zings the aptly named Betty White. And that’s just one of a hundred painfully un-funny “Jemima” cracks throwing us back to a time before the Kings of Comedy, before Rodney King, before Martin Luther King, to the days when Amos and Andy were king. We’re all in It’s a Wonderful Life and Sidney Poitier has never been born.

For this, George Jefferson moved on up to the East side? The dumb-as-a-rock race jokes are less Black vs. White and more Hack vs. Slight: “You think I like walking around like an uptight homie? Yes, I know your lingo!” Ha, ha.

Here’s hoping that Steve Martin opens his Oscar gig with a heartfelt apology. As a well-past-middle-age guy in search of his inner Blackness, Steve is neither an African American nor even a Funny American at this stage of his game.

Fresh on the heels of Chicago, here’s Queen Latifah! Having left all evidence of skill on a coat-hook at the soundstage door, it’s hard to believe this is the same Latifah who’s nominated for an Oscar! Didn’t they used to hand those out for talent? “Nope,” replied Academy Award winning actress Hillary Swank, “they hand them out to actors who take brave roles so they can follow up by piloting a crew to the center of the Earth while shouting ‘I’m goin’ in!’”

Oh. I stand corrected.

It’s up to Latifah to bring some Soul into Steve Martin’s life – and not the broiled kind with lemon he’s accustomed to. If you don’t think that’s funny, then imagine how I feel – I had to sit through it.

bringing_bettywhite.jpgCo-star Eugene Levy is 57. I know this because I sliced a cross-section of his eyebrow and counted the rings. The Bible tells of Moses parting this sea of brow so as to let Eugene’s nose safely pass.

Bringing Down the House is the kind of movie that casts Joan Plowright – one of the British-est of British actresses – as a rich old gal who “was raised in the South.” In the South?! By that she must mean “South of all good role-selecting judgment” or “South of the Gulag to which my agent will hereafter be dispatched.”

So what have we learned? Here’s a convenient summary to impress your friends at cocktail parties:

1. It takes a lot of denim to cover a Queen

2. Taking in a convict from the State Pen can make you appreciate what’s really important in life

3. Neither Steve Martin nor Rufus and Chaka Khan get better with age

4. Dogs with funny hats are the Hail-Mary Pass of inept comedy filmmakers

5. Eugene Levy’s eyebrows are the ninth and tenth wonders of the world.

That this movie could get made is the eleventh.


Photos Copyright ©2003 Touchstone Pictures

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