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Soul-ed out

Queen Latifah slums in Bringing Down the House

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Will Hollywood ever tire of playing the race card?

Bringing Down the House has to be the most unflinchingly bigoted film I've seen in years. Granted, poking fun at racial boundaries can make for good comedy, but this train wreck of political incorrectness sets the dialogue back a good 20 years.

Steve Martin plays a harried tax attorney who struggles to connect with his kids and wants his ex-wife back. The Big Book of Hollywood Cliches dictates he either start doing drag (see: Mrs. Doubtfire), or hire a magical outsider to make everything better (see: Mary Poppins). The answer comes in a derivation of the latter: He meets Charlene (Queen Latifah) in a chat room and invites her on a blind date, thinking she's a skinny blond white chick.

Hilarity should ensue once Latifah arrives, but her over-the-top home girl shtick just never feels real. She succumbs to the basest caricature of an ex-con ghetto princess, which makes it hard for us to care about the contrived plot that keeps them together.

At least Latifah brings some spunk to this otherwise dull affair. All the Caucasians are either idiots, racists or both. Betty White shows up as a bigoted neighbor, while matronly Joan Plowright stumbles through in search of a better script. Martin, meanwhile, did the whole square-white-boy-playing-black thing much better in The Jerk, and that was in 1979.

The film's one saving grace may be the under-utilized Eugene Levy, who plays Martin's co-worker and unlikely suitor to Charlene. His lines like, "You got me straight trippin', boo," were spoiled by the trailers, but they still bring giggles every time. Levy gets the star treatment in the film's just-released DVD, which includes a funny little faux documentary, "The Godfather of Hop," that reveals his hitherto-unknown gangsta side.

The DVD also offers a few deleted scenes that help explain Latifah's unlikely transformation into Oprah Winfrey in under 90 minutes, but it doesn't shed much light on why even she can't float this throwaway role.

At one point, Martin asks Latifah why she carries herself in such an outrageous (read: black) way. She responds, "It ain't actin'."

Girl, you can say that again.

Unlike Latifah, Snoop Dogg knows how to make fun of hyper-charged racial matters. His new show, "Doggy Fizzle Televizzle," gives the Doggfather a platform to showcase his surprising comic sensibilities, which tend to be insanely profane. But the show's underlying "fuck-all-y'all" mentality makes it a must-see in this otherwise dismal summer.

The half-hour show combines sketch-comedy, elements of "Soul Train" and celebrity interviews, and it feels a bit like a modernized "In Living Color" -- albeit taken to barely censored boundaries.

Everything's fair game, from a jab at Whitney Houston that has her literally shoveling snow (with a good bit of it going up her nose) to a deliciously vulgar ice cream truck parody that slams 50 Cent (among others) and includes an enormous frozen chocolate, um, treat named after the host.

Snoop Dogg, known for his "Girls Gone Wild" antics, doesn't resist making fun of himself, and it's clear that he's in on all the jokes, even if his delivery implies that he smoked his breakfast. The humor can be horrifically juvenile, and there are plenty of no-he-didn't moments, but "Doggy Fizzle Televizzle" works thanks to its absolute lack of apology. That's something Hollywood could learn from.

"Doggy Fizzle Televizzle" airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on MTV.

tray.butler@creativeloafing.com


The Watcher is a weekly column on television, DVDs and other small- screen delights.

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