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BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE

By agreeing to play straitlaced white guys who fake hip-hop lingo, Steve Martin and Eugene Levy put themselves in the same boat as their characters. And director Adam Shankman’s film seems to belong to another era. Martin’s Peter is a wealthy workaholic tax attorney who’s been flirting on-line with Charlene (Queen Latifah), not realizing she’s been convicted — but is innocent, of course — and is black. When the two finally meet in the flesh, Charlene blackmails Peter into helping her with her armed-robbery case. Problem is, everyone in his professional life thinks of black people as the hired help — except Howie (Levy), who’s got jungle fever.The wince-inducing hide-the-black-woman scenes ring false; truer and funnier are the moments in which Peter wrestles with his own more insidious racism. Martin, Levy, and Latifah are all very good, and they do wring some laughs out of an old joke. Forget, for a moment, my first sentence — when a script calls for Steve Martin to dance in a hip-hop club, he can put a smile on your face. (105 minutes)

BY MARK BAZER

Issue Date: March 6 - 13, 2003
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