Friday, 6 March 2009

Movie Review - Bringing Down the House

I’ve never quite understood what happens with Steve Martin films. I like him as an actor and comedian, yet I’ve rarely thought his films were more than average. (And Parenthood was just depressing – surely that’s not meant to be the case for a comedy?!?!?) [EDIT - there are some notable exceptions to this, such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels] Anyway, here we have another Steve Martin film, and by no means a great one. So does that mean it’s just another flat, average film?

Well, not quite. There’s a lot to like about the film, good characters, some very funny moments, but overall it just doesn’t quite cut the mustard. (Although surely mustard is something you spread, not cut? I’ve never understood that expression.)

Steve Martin plays Peter Sanderson, a tax lawyer who meets someone on a legal chatroom and claims to be a criminal lawyer (also changing his hair colour and ages somewhat…). The woman he’s been talking to, under the alias of “Lawyergirl”, isn’t quite what she portrays herself to be either. In fact, she turns out to be an escaped convict, black (much to the horror of Peter’s nosy negrophobic across-the-road neighbour, who just happens to be the sister of one of the bosses at the law firm Peter works at), and looking to re-open her case to prove her innocence.

And this is the first mistake the producers make. Instead of letting you sweat as to whether she is actually innocent or not, which would have been much more effective, she is once or twice shown to be possibly guilty, only to be proved innocent again within seconds. It really was too much of a kids gloves approach.

There is also a situation with Peter’s ex-wife (who he is still in love with) and his kids, and your typical “ex-father-who-doesn’t-keep-his-promises-to-his-children” stereotype (it’s “Liar, Liar” all over again, although Steve Martin’s attempt at sensitve acting are much less cringe-worthy than Jim Carey’s), and an ex-sister-in-law from hell. (And, looking back on the paragraph, a hell of a lot of hyphens).

Steve Martin is quite good but not quite on form, and many of the scenes leave you with that “it could have been so much more than this” feeling. Queen Latifah, as the escapee Charlene, is good, and the fight between her and the evil former sister-in-law is inspired. (It takes a lot from computer games like Street Fighter etc, and is very funny). There are several other very funny moments,, though not as many as in, for instance, Shanghai Knights. The show is stolen, however, by Eugene Levy as Howie Rottman, Sanderson’s colleague, who has got to be one of the funniest actors alive. He plays a bigger part than in Serendipity, and as in that film he delivers more laughs than anyone else. [Edit... but he's been in some pretty awful films since this one... ] The other cast member are fine, with Joan Plowright being notable as the doddering but shrewd (until she smokes some funny stuff near the end of the film) multi-billionairess the law firm are wooing. There’s also a Golden Girl in there somewhere, but I’ll let you find out who she is… she makes an appearance early in the film and keeps popping up.

Of course it all has a happy ending, which is in keeping with its mode as a feel-good movie. But it falls far short of what it could be. As I did enjoy the movie the rating seems a little on the harsh side to me, but I stick with the 3 stars. If you’re a fan of Steve Martin then go and watch it, if not then look at the trailer and one or two more reviews before making your decision as to whether to watch it or not.

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If you like Romantic Comedies, check out my - Top Ten Romantic Comedies List

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