Bringing Down the House

Starring:
  • An Unforgivable Steve Martin
  • Oscar-Nominated Queen Latifah (Think about that, Chicago Fans)
  • Betty White and Joan Plowright Vying for Most Deserving a Heart Attack Award

 

Directed by a Sheer Disrespect for Humanity "It's a good thing I didn't wear my 'Bootylicious' shirt to the set today. Except mine would of have a lot fewer cherries on it ..if you know what I'm saying!"
Bad Enough to Incite a Riot

While one can criticize his films all they want, the one thing that Spike Lee can be counted on is to "call a movie out" when necessary. It all began when he and Tom Wolfe marched out together to decry Brian DePalma's adaptation of The Bonfire of the Vanities as one of the most "racially misguided diatribes put to cinema." Since then, Spike had become THE watchdog for an industry in desperate need of monitoring. Who can forget his public dismissal of his former buddy Samuel L. Jackson for taking such "negative" roles for such a "racist" like Quintin Tarantino? Or when he referred to Mel Gibson as a "happy slaveonwer" in The Patriot? Or when he called The Legend of Baggar Vance "Driving Miss Damon"? Hell, it was even funny when he told every kid in America to go skip school on the opening day of Malcolm X. Since his best films seem to break ground despite Hollywood formulation, it only makes sense that he would have no problem with debunking the very formulas the industry tries to impose upon the audience. Sometimes, he seems to be the only person bridging modern film to our country's political/racial pulse. As I was sitting through Bringing Down the House, the new Steve Martin/Queen Latifah "comedy" on "race relations", I was wondering why Spike hadn't done a press conference about this. The film is so hateful, so incendiary, and so callow towards any rationale thought that Spike-upon viewing the film-would get mad enough to hold a press conference and then burn a pizza joint down slightly thereafter. For this film that seemingly should be lumped into the "harmless" type of film that Martin does in order to write his articles for The New Yorker (Re: The Out of Towners, Father of the Bride, et al.), it's existence represents more than mere racism that it has been accused of by other critics. No, this film more closely represents a crime against humanity and that makes it far worse than My Blue Heaven or Sgt. Bilko.

There's not so much of a plot to Bringing Down the House as it's merely an exercise in generalized stereotypes being bounced off one another. Martin Henderson (Martin) is an Uptight, Pathetic White Lawyer who is really Uptight. He sets up a date online with Charlene, who he assumes is an Uptight, Pathetic White Lawyer. But things get WHACKY when Charlene turns out to be Queen Latifah, a Sassy, Black Ex-Convict who tricked Henderson into a date as to convince him to take her case. Of course, Henderson is terrified by this seemingly crazy and very black woman. Because he is Uptight. And, after five minutes with the character, we realize that the movie is only going to reinforce this notion by making Charlene an aggressive criminal who thinks nothing of breaking into a person's home and setting up a house party or by stalking Henderson around and making up racially incendiary lies to inflame his legal colleagues. After all of this criminal activity, Henderson agrees to take her case and to give her a place to live as long as she pretends to be the nanny. Because, you see, Henderson is worried about being seen with a...a...a...black woman! But Charlene hears the term "nanny" and then starts talking like Hattie McDonald in Gone with the Wind. He's trying to woo a rich, racist client (Joan Plowright) who brags about the unpaid African-American servants who worked at her farm -re: plantation- in Georgia. There's also the nosy, next-door neighbor played by Betty White who is so repugnant that any attempt to create humor with her role is muddled down with the sheer shock of her statements. Wanna know what the script for Bringing Down the House thinks is really funny for Betty White to say? Well...

1. "I don't want to see any Latinos in this neighborhood unless they're carrying leaf blowers." 2. "Georgie, don't wear your hair like that. It makes you look like a faggot." 3. (While carrying around a golf club, Elmer Fudd-style) "I think I hear a Negro out here."

And if you don't find that funny, then you're probably NOT in the Aryan Nation. But lest I forget !!!!!! (Eugene Levy), the Best Friend who's White but Talks Black. He says stuff like "straight trippin'" and "cocoa goddess" which is Really Funny because Levy is Canadian. He's got a thing for Charlene which means that the film doesn't have to create any more additional awkwardness by creating an interracial romantic comedy. This also gives Henderson a chance to pursue his ex-wife (Jean Smart) instead of the Sassy, Black Ex-Convict. She's not offensive per se, but has a sister (Bridgette Nielsen) who is always banging men so old that they're about ready to choke on their estate plans. The film takes great amusement in showing her snapping back oxygen masks or spilling soup all over the men she's trying to spoon-feed. This is slightly less funny than Maggie Smith tripping over her oxygen tank in the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. In the end, everyone gets matched up, Charlene only has to wear one Aunt Jemimah outfit that Henderson happened to have lying around the house, and Joan Plowright learns about the power of tolerance after smoking a joint with a couple of gang members. Give peace a chance indeed.

Bringing Down the House fails in two very important categories. It fails to be competent and it fails to not be offensive without making a point. To start, the film isn't very well done. The dialogue floats around to merely prevent the film from being silent. When Smart and Martin exchange lines about him driving by her new house, she proclaims that it's "cute to be stalked." Charming, no? Plot transitions are worse, particularly when Charlene the Man-Tan maid is revealed to be an Ex-Convict during an important dinner party. Two minor characters are watching TV in a faraway room and the news program intro to Charlene's jail bust is virtually blared in over the house intercom to make sure everyone who needs to hear it gets to hear it. This ushers in the False Dawn which leads up to the Real Hope and the Real Dawn right on cue. The damned thing can't even get a Poop Joke right, indiscriminately throwing in the old gag where Charlene puts a laxative in Henderson's dinner. There's nothing to this: Henderson kind of stands up all funny and then leaves for the bathroom. And that's it. No Dumb and Dumber physical payoff, no obstacle to the plot. Afterwards, Scottso of Memphis and I were at a nearby watering hole and came up with better ways that the film could have better incorporated the Poop Joke within its initial parameters: Charlene could have put the laxative in Henderson's dish. After a few bites, he decides it's too bitter and feeds it to William Shakespeare, the rich racist's dog. Then, the dog and Steve Martin could race to the bathroom and fight for first dibs on the toilet. That would be slightly funnier than what we get here.

I tried to think about Poop Jokes after Bringing Down the House because I didn't want to think about the overall feeling I got from the film. This is not a film about characters dealing with racism or differences. This is a film about stereotypes dealing with contrivances. The film doesn't aspire to rise above the caricatures and ultimately embraces the prejudiced portraits it claims to debunk. And this in turn makes the tired, racist attitudes espoused even worse since these aren't characters that are able to develop into something more. They don't learn from each other or learn from the faults of their own ignorance. All of this hateful energy just sits there and stews. Frankly, I felt bamboozled. Now, I wasn't a big fan of Lee's 2000 heavy-handed satire on modern entertainment, but he was dead-on about portraying a media that uses stereotypes to entertain the masses. Just look at the $31.7 million opening weekend with a $22.5 million follow-up. Bringing Down the House is the ultimate embodiment of Lee's vision; the only thing it lacks is the actual black face paint. So where is Spike Lee when we really need him? I could imagine his response to a certain degree: All of the progress that has been made in the past fifty years has been brought down with Bringing Down the House. It is bad enough that African-Americans are limited in role offers to act in degrading projects like this; it is quite another thing to have someone like Queen Latifah actually produce it as though the film is supposed to be saying something important about race. Like the blonde-wig wearing, white-woman pimping Momma she played in Chicago, Queen Latifah represents the worst in complacent entertainers working within the establishment. I say she needs to turn in her African-American card when she gets that Producers Guild ID.

I know it would be something like that. Where is Spike when we really need him?

 

The Pitch:
 
0 Intolerance
Plus
 
0 Bamboozled
Equals
     
0 Bringing Down the House
See It For:
Martin Doing His Best Eminem Impersonation at the GLAAD Talent Show.