Steve Martin is the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde of cinema. For years he was the comedy monster, an unstoppable farce of nature who brought us The Jerk, The Man With Two Brains and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. But somewhere in his career, a quieter, more serious side started to emerge - one that appears in the likes of The Spanish Prisoner and LA Story. Maybe it was this schizophrenic split that caused Hyde to lose some of his manic fury and start popping up in dull comedies like Sgt Bilko and The Out-Of-Towners. Or maybe Martin just stopped being funny.
So how does Bringing Down The House fit into this dual career? Well, it lingers somewhere in the middle both in terms of humour value and tone. Martin's in near-straight-man mode as Peter Sanderson, an uptight, recently divorced upper-middle-class lawyer. Looking for love online, he meets what he thinks is a sexy blonde with a quick brain and a slinky bod. Imagine his surprise, then, when his virtual vixen turns out to be the loud and proud Charlene (Queen Latifah), a convict launching her own appeal and requiring his legal help. Naturally, Peter tries to rid himself of the intruder, running slap(stick)-bang into some of the most painfully inept physical comedy imaginable.
Inevitably, the plot also finds time to ricochet through the usual black-meets-white comic complications like a pinball hitting bumpers. CLANG! Here's the OTT racist (Betty White, in a similar shock-tactic role to her Lake Placid codger). PING! Up pop streetwise gangstas for a raucous house party at Sanderson's pad. BRRING! Underneath our different skin colours, we're all alike.
While hardly living up to its title on the laughter front, House is saved from total mediocrity courtesy of two standouts. One is the sheer charisma of star/producer Queen Latifah, whose boisterous, dynamic and, yes, sexy performance easily matches her attention-snatching turn in Chicago. The other is the always welcome presence of arch scene thief Eugene Levy. Best known as American Pie's bumbling father figure and for his inspired work with Christopher Guest (Best In Show, Waiting For Guffman), this seals his impeccable reputation. Most of his lines, be they straight from the script or those we reckon he improvised, are killers. And we're not talking small-time hoods here - we're talking professional assassins.
And then there's Martin. Okay, so his `amusing' moments are never exactly that, but let's be kind and say he's at least involved in a handful of chuckle-catching gags, most notably an off-the-cuff, on-the-couch lesson in the art of seduction.
A decent enough rom-com to kick off your weekend then, but a touch more Hyde could have made this loads more entertaining.
Fans of Steve Martin's best work won't find too much to satisfy them in this culture-clash rom-com, - unless they switch their gaze to Queen Latifah or Eugene Levy. Now that's comedy.