"Dignity… Always dignity," Gene Kelly espoused as his motto in Singin' In The Rain, shortly before a sequence illustrating the depths of humiliation that had made his career. Or, to put it another way, as Steve Martin did on one of his comedy albums: Comedy is not pretty. Which is fine as long as it's funny, but when it's not funny, it's just sad. Falling firmly on the sad side of the equation, Bringing Down The House is yet another comedy that suggests someone should take Martin aside and remind him that he can do better. Suggesting a big-screen version of the Nell Carter sitcom Gimme A Break!, House pairs Martin, an uptight lawyer, with Queen Latifah, a no-bullshit, slang-talking ex-con who meets him in an Internet chat room, makes a date with him under false pretenses, and moves into his house seeking free legal advice. What follows is drawn directly from the lazy-comedy playbook: Characters walk in just in time to get the wrong impression, old biddy Joan Plowright gets high and gets down, Latifah doses food with a fast-acting laxative, and Martin practices greetings in a mirror before going on a date, learns to be a better father, and gets thrown into a pool, although not in that order. Speaking of dignity, The Wedding Planner director Adam Shankman doesn't throw a lot of it Latifah's way. A smitten Eugene Levy spots her to the accompaniment of The Time's "Jungle Love," but that moment looks ennobling compared to a scene in which she lets Martin fondle and dry-hump her in an attempt to bring out "the beast" in him. To be fair, the movie has a good nature that could allow it to pass as the most enlightened portrayal of race relations of the 19th century. At one point, Martin even suggests that with her intelligence, savvy, quick comprehension, and ability to de-ghettoize her speech, Latifah could someday become a paralegal. Oh, the dizzying heights. "A girl has to get her cheese on," Latifah exclaims at one point, and it's not hard to hear the actress behind the character.
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