March 13, 2003

Bringing Down the IQ

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I honestly don’t understand how this isn’t some crappy Disney Parent Trap spin-off movie cranked out to keep kids happy. Instead, Jason Filardi, a writer who has no other credit to his name (unless you count playing a paramedic in 1996’s The Craft) wrote this pathetic attempt at a movie. I’m not sure what’s more disturbing to me: that this movie was actually made in the first place, or that most of the people who were watching it in the theater with me were actually laughing.

Okay, I guess I’ll have to admit that my niece will most likely love this movie and get it for her birthday on DVD and I’ll have to watch it a thousand more times. And this is fine, if this is the target audience that the movie is appealing to. But it doesn’t seem to me that the makers of this film were intending for this to happen, as evidenced by scene where Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin) grabs Charlene’s (Queen Latifah) breasts while learning how to act more animalistic in the sack. I think that this movie was a cash grab intended to lure people in with some recognizable names, and it worked. The theater was fairly full and unfortunately I’ll bet the film was one of the higher grossing movies at the box office this weekend. [Ed. — see e-news. It was]

The plot is that Peter is a stressed out tax attorney that still loves his ex-wife, but doesn’t quite know where he went wrong. It soon becomes pretty clear that he spends all his time on his work and not on his family. Enter Charlene, the “fellow lawyer” that he meets in an internet chat room and makes a date with. Then she shows up and is not quite what Peter had in mind (she’s an escaped convict with bad hair). And that’s where the fun starts, or rather, the lack thereof. Charlene protests her innocence and after she makes Peter’s life as uncomfortable as she can, Peter agrees to look into her case and clear her name.

Everything seems to be just one big joke about the differences between black and white culture and the misunderstandings between Peter and Charlene that arise because of them. Peter remarks how Charlene is definitely smart enough to be a paralegal if she chose, if only she dressed and talked differently, while Charlene retorts back, saying how she was in prison for four years and she just wants to be herself, not someone’s uptight view of how she should be. This is basically how the movie goes: Peter and white people in general bottle themselves up and don’t let their true feelings out, while Charlene and her black friends are themselves and happier for it.

An exception to this rule is Howie Rosenthal (Eugene Levy), Peter’s best friend. Howie falls in love with Charlene and is very open about his feelings. Though he’s a supporting character, Howie provides some of the best lines in the film, including “Shazam” the first time he sees Charlene. I love Eugene Levy, he’s definitely one of the best character actors working right now. Most people know him from 1999’s American Pie as Jason Biggs’s dad, where he does a spectacular job of being the uncomfortable parent. Levy almost made the film bearable.

Some of the more spectacularly humiliating scenes in the film include seeing Peter dress up “ghetto-style” and try to blend in at an underground club, where he’s the only white guy. I can honestly say that I could have died happy never having seen him grinding away between two women, or trying break-dance. It’s an image I just can’t seem to scrub out of my brain. Another gem was Charlene dressed up in some pink housekeeper’s outfit (and why that happened to be lying around the house, I can’t even begin to imagine) serving dinner to a bigoted old woman that Peter is courting as a prospective client.

This is a group of great actors that are working with sub-par (okay, wretched) material, and are attempting to rise above it. At least, for the most part. I was honestly impressed with Queen Latifah; she fills out her role admirably, adding depth and warmth to a character that could have come across as wooden and stock. As always, Eugene Levy was superb. On the other side of the acting spectrum, Steve Martin seems to phone in his performance. There just wasn’t any energy from him, none of that comedic genius that I love him for.

This wasn’t just a bad movie because I can usually get through a lot of bad movies just by making fun of just how horrible they are. No, this movie was dull, contrived, and stole away precious moments of my life that I will never be able to get back. If you’re not a kid aged 5-10, try to get in the mindset of one, or at least get wasted before you go see this crap.

Archived article by Sue Karp