Sex and racism. Viewers who cackle hysterically over those two subjects will find Bringing Down the House a laugh a minute. However, families uncomfortable with a young boy reading aloud from a porn mag, or country-clubbing bigots cracking Aunt Jemima jokes, will leave the theater more rankled than regaled. The screen is abuzz with insufferable white people who spew ignorant, decades-old black stereotypes.
Steve Martin plays Peter, an uptight, divorced attorney trying to land a big account for his equally uptight firm. Into his life strides Charlene (Latifah), a soulful ex-con who has spent the past four years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. She convinces Peter to help clear her name. In return, she loosens him up and reconnects him with his wife and two children (Charlene’s methods include a values-neutral approach to parenting, and solving complex marital problems simply by unlocking his inner sexual beast). Quick-fix reconciliation extends to Peter’s stodgy prized client, a dowager who has her racial prejudice cured when, after getting dragged to a downtown club, she gets high with two young black men.
Also in the House are several dozen profanities, lots of social drinking, simulated sex (straddling and grinding on the dance floor) and some unexpected moments of violence (women engage in a wild brawl; gunplay ends with someone getting shot).
Still wild and crazy, Steve Martin can be funny and likable as an aging guy struggling to keep up with change. But content matters, and the socially inept Bringing Down the House is no Father of the Bride.