In BRINING DOWN THE HOUSE, Steve Martin plays a lonely lawyer who meets a woman on the Internet who happens to be an escaped prisoner trying to clear her name of an armed robbery conviction. With foul language, sex and drugs, an otherwise well acted, well-written comedy will likely miss its potential at the box office and with the entire family friendly movie-going crowd.
Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin) is an insecure-about-his-job, divorced lawyer who’s playing around in law chat rooms and meets a cyber-gal online. She tells him she’s blonde, but has a dark side, and sends him a photo of a gorgeous woman. Peter says that he’s a bit older and has light, boyish hair. (It’s actually gray.) They share legal advice and trivialities about their lives, and soon Peter arranges for them to meet at his home. He picks a convenient weekend when his two children are with his ex-wife (Jean Smart), polishes himself up, lights candles, prepares a romantic spread of hors d’oerves and champagne, and excitedly answers the door.
There stands not a slim blonde, but a buxom black woman, Charlotte Morton (Queen Latifah). She is loud, brash and rude, and when Peter challenges her about the picture, she tells him that she never said she was the blonde. She points to the distant background of the photo she had sent, where a black woman is being shoved into the back of a police car. “That’s me,” she says proudly. “See? I didn’t lie.”
Peter madly tries to get her out of his house because his neighbor (played hilariously by Betty White) is highly suspicious and prejudiced, and tells all of the Sandersons’ business to her brother, senior partner at Peter’s law firm. She actually comes over and asks if she just heard someone speaking Negro. Peter denies it and pulls Charlotte back into the house. Charlotte confesses that she just got (temporarily) released from prison after being wrongfully accused of robbery, and now she wants Sanderson’s legal help in getting acquitted. When he refuses, she threatens to blackmail him by sending all his Internet letters to his law firm. Reluctantly, he agrees to help.
Charlotte begins introducing Peter to her world of the “hood” – the urban street language, people, and practices so opposite to his elite life as a lawyer who works only with exclusive clients. As a matter of fact, his current project is using any means necessary to win over a billionaire widow, Mrs. Arness, played by the stuffy British actress Joan Plowright.
Heaven has a way of messing up poorly motivated plans, however, and heaven’s tool in Peter’s life turns out to be the unpretentious Charlotte. She soon insinuates herself into his life and teaches him her earthy ways, which include street slang and wild sexual talk. She assures Peter that it will help him get back together with his ex-wife. In order to cover up for her, he tells his ex and his business associates that she is the children’s nanny. As a matter of fact, she begins to act like the nanny after awhile, teaching the young boy to read by introducing him to pornography . . . Lovely.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Arness drops by Peter’s house one night, basically inviting herself to stay for dinner, and Peter insists that Charlotte dress up as a servant. During dinner Mrs. Arness continues to talk about how much Charlotte reminds her of her childhood servant who taught her slave songs like, “Is Massa Gonna Sell Us Tomorrow?” Finally, after Charlotte’s had enough, she spikes Mrs. Arness’s food with a laxative, but Peter exchanges plates with her and gets the curse himself.
Things go from bad to worse over the next few weeks, as Charlotte beats up Peter’s ex-sister-in-law, a gorgeous young gal who uses old men for their money, brings her dangerous ex-boyfriend into Peter’s life, places him in a precarious situation that gives his ex-wife the wrong idea, and almost gets him fired from his job at the firm. Peter must decide whether or not to choose his old proper ways of cowering before the greed and elitism of his law firm or to utilize Charlotte’s new ways of edgy freedom and confidence to turn the tables on his life.
With witty writing and talented acting, BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE could have had the potential to be a major blockbuster. Steve Martin is one of the great masters of physical humor, Jean Smart is always fun and classy in her roles (and still looks as fabulous as she did in her “Designing Women” days), and Joan Plowright and Betty White are a riot as stuffy, nosey, prejudiced women. Queen Latifah is a good actor, but her role in this movie is very rude and raunchy. Steve Martin is rude and raunchy with her!
The movie portrays this couple, which has no natural chemistry, “dirty dancing,” pretending to copulate, Steve gyrating with gourds in his pants, grabbing Queen Latifah’s breasts, and so on. The sad part is that it wasn’t necessary! So much of the movie’s humor was simply good, clean fun with sidesplitting shticks. It didn’t need the raunchy, rude sexual “humor” to help things along. As a matter of fact, MOVIEGUIDE® has found that when producers add such objectionable material, it hurts sales at the box-office. When will everyone learn?
BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE has catfights, rude scatological (“potty mouth”) comments, and offensive gestures throughout its hundred minutes. There are racial slurs, old women smoking pot, children lying to and for their parents, children deceiving and sneaking out of the house at night, people using “church talk” to lie to each other, and so forth. What could have been charming, funny, comedic escapism for parents and teens must now, regrettably, by relegated to the “extreme caution” category. We encourage moral audiences to write to studios and remind them that rude and raunchy not only hurts families, but also hurts profits!
Better choices for entertainment would include JUNGLE BOOK 2 and GODS AND GENERALS.
Please address your comments to:
Michael Eisner, Chairman/CEO
Buena Vista Distribution Co.
(Walt Disney Pictures, Caravan, Hollywood, Miramax, & Touchstone Pictures)
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521
Phone: (818) 560-1000
(PaPa, Ab, LLL, VV, SS, AA, DD, MM) Pagan worldview elevating "the 3 G's" (gold, girls and glory) and many selfish, relativistic decisions are made, and woman pretends to be part of a Methodist choir and lies about getting Sanderson's charity work; 34 obscenities, one strong profanity, seven light profanities, and other rude, vulgar comments and several instances of ethnic slang; strong violence with punch-outs, cat fights, bad guys with guns, and comedic violence; offensive sexual mimicking while clothed, dirty dancing, grabbing breasts, man puts gourds in his pants and gyrates, and other sexual references; no nudity; many portrayals of alcohol use and drunkenness; smoking, marijuana use, reference to Ecstasy, and woman puts laxative into another woman's food; and, rudeness to elderly men, lying, cheating, gambling, and teenage deceit and disrespectfulness.