BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE
Rating: Active Eruption
If you love comedy, this movie's a gem. This one is not only continuously funny but it also has plot lines. Doesn't get much better than this.
Ah, Steve Martin is back, and funnier than he's been since the first "Father of the Bride". Queen Latifah is great, too, and since her performance in "Chicago" vaulted her to the hot list, I think we'll be seeing a lot more of her.
But the actress who really stole the show was Joan Plowright.
You're probably thinking, "Who is Joan Plowright?" But when you see her, you'll recognize her from her many movie appearances. She was laugh-out-loud funny in this movie.
So fasten your seatbelts, here we go. Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin) is under pressure to keep a young hotshot tax lawyer from stealing his job. He's also currently divorced from Kate (Jean Smart) because he was all work, work, work. Kate has a sister, Ashley (Missi Pyle), who is a gold-digger, dating geriatric cases for the purpose of acquiring half of their estates; she hates Peter. Oh, and Peter's teenage daughter Sarah (Kimberly Brown) is sneaking out and dating boys unbeknownst to Peter. Peter's son Georgey (Angus Jones) wants to learn to read so other kids won't make fun of him. So, there you have the basic dysfunctional family unit; everybody is trying to get something or someone. And now: enter Charlene.
Peter helps "lawyer-girl" Charlene (Queen Latifah) with some legal advice online in a chat room and then they meet personally, when Peter discovers that she's an ex-con and African-American, much to his shock. Charlene wants Peter to help her clear her record, since she was innocent. He wants her nowhere near him, his home, his office or his country club, but she finds ways to get to him at all those locations and keeps pressuring him until he agrees to help. Meanwhile, Peter's ex, Kate, is dating a very young golf pro, so Peter has to take care of the two kids; Charlene becomes the de facto nanny. Peter's associate Howard (Eugene Levy) is lusting after Charlene. Howard also works with Peter on trying to land a new rich client, Mrs. Arness (Joan Plowright), an uptight and conservative heiress with an ugly dog named William Shakespeare. With all of this going on, Peter's nosy neighbor Mrs. Kline (Betty White) is certain that all manner of ethnic losers are going to move into the neighborhood and ruin it, and she keeps an eye on Peter with all the suspicious people going in and out of his house (and reports it to her brother, who is Peter's boss at the law firm.) So, alrighty then, lots of conflicts and plot points everywhere.
Do we have enough material for a movie or what? You could do a whole movie on any one of these situations, but this one has it all, with all the conflicts intertwined and neatly tied up and resolved at the end. And throughout the movie, there is a steady drumbeat of hilarity: well timed, and well acted.
There are lots of great scenes and pretty-close-to-racist jokes that work because Queen Latifah's character and acting are, well, don't-mess-with-me powerful. As much as Charlene disrupts Peter's life, she also helps him fix it. She rescues Sarah from an unsavory party experience, and goes after the target boyfriend - a memorable and funny scene. Charlene dutifully plays maid during a dinner party while Mrs. Arness sings a "Negro spiritual" she remembered from her childhood in the south, when they had a slave named Ivy; another hilarious scene. Charlene also brings Peter out of his shell, getting him to dance and eventually trying to get ex-wife Kate back for him. The bathroom brawl between Charlene and Ashley rivals any WWF encounter. And Howard keeps pursuing Charlene to get his hunk of burning ethnic love. All the characters work well against each other, with each other and for each other.
In the end…oh no. I'm not going to tell you how it ends. There are a few twists and turns, though, and lots of laughs all the way through to the final credits. This movie is a lot of fun. You might even want to see it twice to catch all the one-liners you missed the first time.