Bringing Down the House [2003]

The pleasingly contrasting comic styles of Queen Latifah and Steve Martin bring some energy to Bringing Down the House, a hopelessly formulaic comedy. Martin plays Peter, an uptight lawyer too obsessed with work to spend quality time with his kids. Into his life comes Queen Latifah as Charlene, an escaped convict who threatens to wreck his relationship with a wealthy but arch-conservative client (Joan Plowright, in high dudgeon) if Peter won't take up her case. Of course, Latifah's exuberant ways enchant his kids and bring out a looser, livelier side of Peter, all in a series of scenes so standard they hardly register. Thank goodness for Eugene Levy; as one of Peter's law partners with a taste for Charlene's bodacious brand of sexy, Levy's ingenious transformation from nebbish to loverman is the movie's secret weapon, stealthily planting comic explosions amidst the modest rice-krispie-crackle of the stale plot. --Bret Fetzer

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