U.S. Release Date: March 7, 2003
Distributor: Buena Vista
Director: Adam Shankman
Producer: David Hoberman
Cast: Queen Latifah, Steve Martin
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (language, sexual humor and drug material)

Housesitter From the Ghetto
by Scott Holleran

Director Adam Shankman's choreography skills make Bringing Down the House, starring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah, a funny motion picture. Though marred by an inferior plot, House, considered in today's cultural vacuum, offers enough good humor to make it worth the price of admission.

Latifah, in her first leading movie role, is Charlene Morton, a black felon who imposes herself on uptight lawyer Peter Sanderson (played by Steve Martin) in order to gain his legal expertise. Apparently, Morton—no relation to Latifah's Mama Morton character from Chicago—is innocent of her crime and she wants Sanderson to prove it.

The story drags as Morton tries desperately to get Sanderson on the hook to help her clear her name. Once she succeeds, everyone in House, including Morton, appears to forget about resolving her dilemma. The plot's not the point; like most TV sitcoms, the fun lies in a string of unrelated one-liners and sight gags.

Predictably, the mismatched pair form a bond and profit from their alliance. Before long, Morton cleans up her act, Sanderson gets hip with his two children (Kimberly J. Brown and Angus T. Jones) and every white person is made to look like a moron for not appreciating gangsta rap.

Bringing Down the House is essentially a remake of Martin's Housesitter, (1992), which was a better movie, with Latifah in the Goldie Hawn role and Martin playing an attorney instead of an architect. The basic elements are the same: the intruder with something to hide, the charade for the neighbors, and Martin's disrupted and, ostensibly, improved, suburban life, which serves as the comic premise.

While House has none of Housesitter's depth, Shankman makes shrewd use of his choreography skills.

Exhibited in small gestures, such as Martin's dressing for a first date, and slapstick, Shankman's physical humor saves the picture from lapsing into generic fare (and House is too crude for children). Latifah's confident, sexy movements soothe Charlene Morton's rough ghetto edge and create a more engaging character. The funniest moments result from Shankman's adroit sense of physical conflict and dance.

First time writer Jason Filardi's jokes range from the ludicrous—an old lady on drugs, a fag joke, the stereotype that everything black is cool—to the outrageous. The latter generally works, as when Morton tries to coach Sanderson in romance, but the comedy ought to serve the plot, not the other way around.

Sporadic flashes of Filardi's smart writing and Shankman's clever comic touches combine to create the movie's best scene. Charlene, finally fed up
with snooty goldigger Ashley's racist comments, corners the woman in a country club ladies room. Yes, the predictable contrast—white bitch versus ghetto chick—sets up the showdown, but the biggest laugh comes during the scene's twist: the white girl knows how to kick butt, too.

Talented actress Missi Pyle, who makes Ashley a memorable role, has it all: she's a knockout with a killer sense of timing. Other standouts include
veteran character actor Eugene Levy as Sanderson's best friend and colleague and Steve Harris in a pivotal role.

The rest of House is a lot of noise between laughs. Betty White is wasted as a racist neighbor. Joan Plowright does the rich old lady routine. Jean Smart plays Sanderson's ex-wife in what should have been a subplot but, at some point, becomes the movie's theme.

Go for the laughs, don't look too closely and rent Housesitter to see it done right.

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