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Bringing Down The House Review

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Recently divorced and distinctly uptight tax lawyer Peter Sanderson finds himself bored and lonely. Hitting online chat rooms for romance, he meets 'slim, blonde' Charlene who is, in fact, black - and in prison.

★★★★★

The $100 million-plus Stateside success of this odd couple pairing says a lot about downcast US audiences' thirst for irreverent comedy. But, even given the mood of the moment, why embrace a formulaic comedy whose principle humour revolves around offensive racial stereotypes? This debilitating and uncomfortable element detracts from the sparky chemistry between Martin - surely the comedic epitome of 'uptight whitey' - and Latifah, who effortlessly casts an air of cool.

Following her bravado turn in Chicago, it's strange that the currently hot Latifah's first lead role sees her undergo such humiliation. Worse, as executive producer, she approved it! As sassy, confident jailbird Charlene, she is treated as a vulgar, monstrous presence by the array of bigoted whites. Her boisterous entrance is punctured when Peter's elderly neighbour saunters out, broom in hand, saying "I thought I heard a Negro". In the film's most excruciating sequence, Charlene poses as Peter's house maid as he entertains heiress client Mrs. Arness (Plowright), who sings the slave song Ol' Massa Gonna Sell Me Tomorrow - which will only ever provoke nervous laughter, if any.

Thank God, then, for Eugene Levy as Peter's buddy, Howie, whose lust for Charlene provides the film's best comedy, as he woos her with such ethnic come-ons as, "Swing it, cocoa goddess," and, "You got me straight-trippin', boo." As for Martin, it's a welcome return to full-on physical comedy, yet he's merely combining the unwanted house-guest schtick of 1992's Housesitter with, in a sequence which sees him infiltrate a hip-hop club dressed in full homeboy regalia, the white-acting-black humour of The Jerk.

Screenwriter Filardi must shoulder much of the blame, with a script that handles racial issues with none of the satirical assurance of Bulworth, retreating into baseless caricatures and a bottom line of, 'Hey, racial intolerance is part of life!' An unnecessary sequel beckons, but hopefully without Martin teaching Latifah how to mow a lawn and paint a white picket fence.

Martin treads familiar ground, but his chemistry with Latifah is great, bolstered by Levy's hilarious support. But the careless racial humour creates an uneasy tone.