This movie falls squarely in what I call the “Cat in the Hat” genre, one of the most popular and enduring movie themes, in which a straight-laced person (A) who plays by the rules has his or her life turned upside down by someone (B) who represents uncertainty, vitality, and taking risks. After A complains about how B is irresponsible and how B is messing everything up, there is always a scene in which A tells B, “I learned/got so much more from you than you ever did from me! This is the best day of my life!”
In this variation, Steve Martin plays Peter, a lawyer who works too hard. He is separated from his wife and cancels a long-planned vacation with his children because he is under a lot of pressure to land a wealthy and very proper new client (Joan Plowright). He meets a woman on the internet and makes a date with her, thinking she is a pretty blonde lawyer. But it turns out to be Charlene (Queen Latifah, who also produced), a convicted felon who wants him to help her clear her record. She not only knows how to torture him into helping her — she enjoys it. And while he is fuming on the outside, it is clear that at some level, he is enjoying it, too.
This is Steve Martin’s best film in years. The character and situations are made for him. Queen Latifah is sensational — warm, funny, and sexy and utterly charming. Audiences will wish she would come over and bring down their houses. The script loses its way several times, particularly with a tasteless plot line about Peter’s racist society party girl of a sister-in-law. A catfight scene does not work at all (except for the Tae-Bo joke). Don’t think about the plot too much, because most of it makes no sense at all. But this is still a better-than-average comedy that works very well much of the time. Queen Latifah’s wonderfully radiant star quality, Steve Martin’s comic grace and Eugene Levy’s masterful turn as Peter’s besotted partner do bring down the house.
Parents should know that the movie has some very strong material for a PG-13, including explicit sexual references and a graphic apparent sexual situation, very strong language, a lot of drinking, and drug humor (it is supposed to be very funny that a very dignified elderly lady gets stoned on marijuana). A young teenage girl sneaks out with a boy and finds it more than she can handle when he takes her to a party where people are drinking and doing drugs and he tries to force her to have sex. It is supposed to be funny that Peter’s son reads a dirty magazine (that belongs to Peter) and that Peter’s sister-in-law is essentially a paid girlfriend for very elderly rich men. Some people may be offended by some of the racist language and stereotypes, but the movie is clear that it is offensive and stupid to be bigoted and cowardly and foolish to be silent when those views are expressed.
Families who see this movie should talk about Charlene’s advice to Peter on how to communicate with his teenage daughter. They should also talk about how the adults in their family try to maintain a balance between work and family and how to best communicate to family members that they are the top priority.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy a sweet British movie with a similar plot, “Molly and Me,” as well as the best of all “Cat in the Hat” genre movies, “Bringing Up Baby.”