He was the self-proclaimed wild and crazy guy who settled into maturity with films like "Parenthood" and "Father of the Bride". Still, the nutter in Steve Martin was itching to break free; so came "Bowfinger" and now the raucous race comedy "Bringing Down the House".
The friction between his button-down lawyer, Peter Sanderson, and ghetto-fabulous fugitive Charlene Morton (Queen Latifah) produces dazzling comic sparks in an otherwise stale set-up.
On the rebound from his ex-wife, Peter meets Charlene in an internet chatroom, believing she's a petite blonde attorney. When she makes a jailbreak to meet him, he's more than a little overwhelmed by her, um, larger than life presence and, ahem, swarthy looks.
Talk about awkward first dates.
Romance is off the cards, but it's no beef for Charlene, who only wants Peter's help in appealing her conviction for armed robbery.
Peter is resolutely uninterested, but Charlene installs herself in his white-bred life and scuppers his efforts to land a wealthy client - played by a delightfully scatterbrained Joan Plowright.
While the script lacks invention, it provides an adequate framework for Steve Martin to really let loose. Yes, the old white-men-can't-dance gag is reprised here, but you know what? It's funny.
Latifah more than keeps pace with Martin, showing a natural sensibility for playing it broad (if you'll pardon the pun), particularly in a scene where she instructs Martin in the logistics of seduction.
The pair's volatile interaction and underlying affection for each other is believable - crucial, because it keeps the plot from flatlining.
The irreverent humour has opened the door to accusations of racism, but the only people likely to be discomfited by the movie are those who recognise themselves in the bigots portrayed onscreen.
More likely, "Bringing Down the House" will have audiences raising the roof.