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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bringing Down the House: 10th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
The hilarious Steve Martin (Father Of The Bride) and Academy Award nominee Queen Latifah (Best Actress In A Supporting Role, Chicago, 2002) star with Eugene Levy (American Pie) and Betty White (The Proposal) in this hysterical culture clash hit. When Peter Sanderson (Martin), a divorced, uptight lawyer, meets Charlene (Latifah), a street-smart soul sister who’s just escaped from prison, his life is turned upside down. Crazy complications abound, and Peter soon discovers he may need Charlene just as much as she needs him. It’s a houseful of fun your family will enjoy again and again.

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin) is a divorced workaholic who put his job before his family too many time which cost him his marriage and estranged somewhat him from his children.  He still loves his ex-wife  Kate (Jean Smart) and he can’t stop himself from driving by her house, even if it’s out of his way.  What little free time he does have is spent in internet chat rooms dedicated to lawyers where they discuss cases and help each other with pointers and advice. Over a period of time, Peter makes a connection with one of the posters called Charlene.  She makes him laugh and her appreciates her intelligence, and the picture she sent got his attention too since it features a cute blond woman that he finds very attractive.
What Peter doesn’t realize until she shows up at his front door, is that the woman he has been chatting with is actually an escaped prisoner named Charlene (Queen Latifah) who looks and acts nothing like the woman he imagined.  Quickly putting the kibosh on the romantic evening that he had planned, Peter kicks Charlene out in anger until she starts yelling and waking his snobby neighbors (including a racist Betty White) until he lets her back in. Charlene has come to Peter because she believes he can help her since she claims to have been framed for the crime she was incarcerated for.  Peter doesn’t believe her and refuses to help her until she blackmails him with copies of all of their conversations.
Charlene represents the kind of chaos that Peter tries to avoid and it’s not long before her presence starts disrupting Peter’s personal and professional lives.  At work, Peter is busy trying to convince Ms. Arness (Joan Plowright) who is an extremely wealthy heiress, to allow him to represent her legal affairs.  His bosses and especially his weaselly colleague Todd (Michael Rosenbaum) keep interfering and making his task even harder.  Peter’s ex-wife’s sister Ashley (Missi Pyle) also delights in tormenting and insulting Peter whenever she can.  As bad as both of those relationships are, they get a lot worse when Charlene starts staying with Peter.  Ms. Arness is a casual racist which infuriates Charlene and Ashley starts trouble between Kate and Peter when she tells her sister about the apparent new woman in Peter’s life.
It’s not all bad however, since Peter’s co-worker and best friend Howie (Eugene Levy) falls for Charlene hard and Peter’s children really grow to lover Charlene.  Despite his early misgivings about her, a friendship is formed between them and they both start to help each other. Charlene helps Peter become more self-confident and direct, which will help him win Kate back and to also spend more time with his kids. After being warned to stop helping her, Peter realizes that she is innocent and does his best to help her, even going so far as attempting to infiltrate an urban club wearing an outfit he bought off of a passerby.  With the two of them helping each other out they compliment each other well and their friendship will change their lives.
Bringing Down the House is a fairly predictable movie that separates itself from a lot of other movies of the same type by putting more of a focus on race than you’d expect from a Disney family comedy.  After watching the extras, I learned that Queen Latifah was an executive producer on the film and that she wanted to make it somewhat edgy to reveal some uncomfortable truths about society through humor. Because of that, there’s several cringe-worthy moments such as Ms. Arness’ treatment of Charlene or Peter’s attempts to become a player from the hood, but at the same time, entertainment today has become so politically correct that it’s refreshing to see humorous situations venture into that kind of territory.
Watching the movie again, I was struck by what a perfect blend this movie was of Steve Martin’s movies from the 80s and from his later “Dad” era movies.  With the club scene, we get the 80s Steve Martin from The Jerk days (in fact that scene could have been inserted into The Jerk seamlessly) and the upper middle class dad that Martin played in a bunch of movies like Father of the Bride.  As a fan of both version of Martin, this was a nice bonus to get “classic” and “modern” Steve.  I wish he would go back to doing straight out and out comedies since he was so good at them, but I’ve also enjoyed the heartwarming family comedies he’s done too.
Queen Latifah also does a funny turn in this movie and I think her presence raised Martin’s game as does the always funny Eugene Levy. Both of them contribute a lot of laughs to the movie and it’s especially funny to watch Levy’s character try to woo Charlene.  Jean Smart is also good as the long suffering wife Kate and Michael Rosenbaum (“Smallville’s” Lex Luthor) proves that he can play a weasel well.  While I didn’t enjoy the movie as much as I did when I originally saw it in the theater, it still made me laugh although maybe not as much as when I was younger.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (2.35:1) transfer looks a lot better than I expected it would.  Lately, Disney has been putting out a ton of high quality discs, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised but this looks great for an older catalog title.  Detail is sharp in all aspects, whether it’s the actors’ faces or the clothes they are wearing.  Color is also well defined and varied along with natural looking flesh tones that remain consistent throughout the movie.  Black levels are fairly good but not as strong as they could have been.  This transfer is a huge improvement over the previous DVD release and fans will be pleased.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Bringing Down the House’s DTS-HD Master Audio is pretty good but it doesn’t represent as much of an upgrade as the visual quality does. Being a comedy film, this is a front channel prioritized mix that emphasizes the dialogue which sounds clear and is easily understood.  The rear channels get less to do as there really isn’t a whole lot of ambiance added to the mix.  The LFE channel is also rarely used but it comes to life once they reach the club and the bass starts up.  This is an above average mix and one that’s suitable for a comedy movie.

Extras (3 out of 5 stars) 

For a tenth anniversary edition, I expected a lot more extras than this but at least what’s here is pretty good.  None of the extras are in high definition.
  • Audio Commentary – with director Shankman and screenwriter Jason Filardi that covers the making of the movie, complete with stories about the cast and scenes that were cut and more.  Shankman and Filardi are a good team to listen to as their enthusiasm is fun to hear and it’s obvious that they’re proud of the movie.
  • Breaking Down Bringing Down the House - A sixteen minute behind the scene featurette that includes the and the director talking about the movie.  This is entertaining but it’s pretty cut and dried as it’s essentially EPK footage.
  • Godfather of Hop – Eugene Levy claims to be the Godfather of Hip Hop (or just Hop as he claims it’s known in Canada) and his claims are backed up by Martin and others in this humorous extra.
  • Better than the Rest – A Queen Latifah music video.
  • Deleted Scenes – There’s four deleted scenes that were suitably cut.  There’s really nothing here than needed to be in the final cut of the movie.
  • Gag Reel –  A fun four minute gag reel of the cast screwing up and fooling around.

Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This one of Steve Martin’s better “Dad” comedies and he shares some great chemistry with Queen Latifah and Eugene Levy which adds a lot of enjoyment to the movie.  Adam Shankman did a nice job bringing his cast’s talents out and showcasing them well.  This is a high energy movie that has a fast pace and a great supporting cast so if you haven’t seen it yet, then you should check it out.
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