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Film review: Bringing Down the House

Somehow, "Bringing Down the House" — a really bad screwball comedy — keeps coming up with ways to make itself worse, thanks to a continual undercurrent of racially insensitive humor (which is directed at more than one race). Add to that too much low sexual humor and slapstick violence and it becomes unsalvageable.

In fact, this is possibly the most embarrassing thing Steve Martin has ever been associated with (yes, even including such dreck as "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band").

Martin stars as Peter Sanderson, a hardworking L.A. tax attorney who's still smarting from his divorce. While he does get to see his two children (Kimberly J. Brown and Angus T. Jones), he misses his wife (Jean Smart).

Perhaps that's why he turns to Internet chat rooms for solace. That's where he "meets" Charlene (Queen Latifah), who claims to be a woman seeking legal advice. In reality, she's an escaped convict looking for a place to stay — and help in clearing her name. Needless to say, Peter is disappointed and doesn't want any of it. Besides, he's busy trying to land a very important, very uptight client (Joan Plowright).

To be fair, the film's premise isn't the worst in recent movies. But director Adam Shankman and first-time screenwriter Jason Filardi squander numerous opportunities for sly, subtle gags.

Consequently, all of Martin's considerable comic talents go to waste. Same goes for Eugene Levy, who doesn't get nearly enough screen time in a supporting role as Peter's buddy.

As for Queen Latifah, who just garnered her first Academy Award nomination for her supporting turn in "Chicago," she'd better hope Academy don't see this stinker before they vote.

"Bringing down the House" is rated PG-13 for crude humor involving sexual and other bodily functions (sight gags, verbal jokes and other references), occasional use of strong profanity, violence (gunplay, fisticuffs and violence against women, all supposedly done for laughs), simulated drug use (marijuana and tranquilizers), use of some racial epithets, and brief sexual contact. Running time: 105 minutes.