Fill up on bad taste
Why do movies like Bringing Down the House keep getting made? Well, judging by the uproarious laughter filling the room at the screening I attended, it’s because a lot of people find this sort of cutesy, racially-charged, conveyor belt humor funny. After watching this film, I felt alone. Very alone.Honestly folks, I didn’t laugh once. Not a chortle. Not a snicker. Nada.
This came as a surprise to me, because two of my comic idols, Steve Martin and Eugene Levy, are featured in the film. I will admit, while no sound other than grinding teeth emitted from my pained body, the two did manage to make me grin optimistically on a few occasions. The optimism stemmed from the notion that the mild contraction of my facial muscles would foreshadow some form of humorous surprise. It didn’t come to pass.
If you have a television, you know the plot to this one. Martin’s attorney character, hard up for some action, arranges for an Internet date with a seemingly skinny, blonde, Caucasian fellow attorney. It turns out that the person on the other end of the messages is a big, bold black woman (Queen Latifah). When the two get together, there’s enough bad, sitcomy racial humor to fill 20 seasons of What’s Happening, the difference here being that even Roger and Rerun could generate more laughter than this groaner.
Latifah moves into Martin’s house, turning his humble abode into party central and threatening to make his life a living hell if he doesn’t take her case. (She claims to have been framed for an armed robbery.) It’s sort of Planes, Trains and Automobiles meets You’ve Got Mail meets Sinbad’s Houseguest meets dog shit.
Actually, the film reminds one an awful lot of a prior Martin vehicle, Housesitter, where Goldie Hawn terrorized a tight-assed Steve by moving into his home and masquerading as his one and only. That film was comic gold compared to this one, which tries to mine laughter out of such tired sight gags as Eugene Levy with dreadlocks and Queen Latifah dry humping Steve Martin.
The humor here could best be described as being in bad taste, and while bad taste can certainly be an asset in some comedies, like the recent Old School, House is just recycled, dumbed-down bad taste humor. I liken the film to a whoopee cushion that has made its way to everybody’s seat at a large convention hall. That fart sound wears thin after a while and becomes annoying.
Take, for example, the sad sight of Martin in street get-up, trying to act black at a nightclub full of African Americans. In the film, the patrons think he is a cute, goofy clown and embrace the affable fool. He dances the night away, using his ruse to foil the bad guys and save the day. In real life, the man would’ve received the most justified ass whooping of his socially ignorant life.
With The Jerk, Martin took racial stereotype humor to an outrageous, vulgar degree, and the barrier-breaking film worked, as did Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. What made those films work is that the humor was as ugly and brutal as the hatred and stupidity that inspired it. There were also many crap films consisting of racial humor from that time period, including Denzel Washington’s Carbon Copy (1981) and C. Thomas Howell’s Soul Man (1986), the latter playing like pathetic, modern day minstrel shows.
Sadly, Bringing Down the House owes more to those latter films. Taking a warm and fuzzy approach to racial humor is a big risk, and the makers of this movie have fumbled big time.