BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE (PG-13, 107 minutes)
Steve Martin and Queen Latifah go full out for comedy as an uptight lawyer and the convict who turns his life upside down in "Bringing Down the House." They reap well-earned guffaws, yet this raucous farce about race and class isn't evenhanded: Most of the white characters have complex lives and personalities; the African American characters (except Latifah's) are jive-talking urban stereotypes.
Though rated PG-13, "Bringing Down the House" could be too bawdy for most teens under 15, with earthy sexual innuendo in the form of slang and Latifah teaching Martin seduction moves. Other mature elements include racial slurs, mild profanity, marijuana use, drinking and a teenage girl upset because a date tried to make her have sex.
Martin plays Peter, a divorced workaholic, and Latifah plays Charlene, who forges a relationship with him via a lawyers' Internet chat room. He thinks she's a blond attorney coming for a date. When she shows up, he tries to throw her out, but she moves in and insists he help clear her name. She wins over his kids (Kimberly J. Brown and Angus T. Jones), charms his hip colleague (a hilarious Eugene Levy) and knocks his elitist client (Joan Plowright) and several other bigots sideways.
AMANDLA! A REVOLUTION IN FOUR-PART HARMONY (PG-13, 103 minutes; limited release)
This enlightening -- and foot-stomping -- documentary about the role of protest songs in the struggle against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa from the 1950s to the 1990s should inspire socially conscious high schoolers. Filmmaker Lee Hirsch uses archival concert films, interviews with South African musical greats, among them singer Miriam Makeba, trumpeter Hugh Masekela and jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (all of whom lived in exile at times), along with harrowing news footage of uprisings and police crackdowns. Some of that material is grim viewing, but not graphic. The interviews contain occasional profanity and muted verbal descriptions of prison hangings and torture. "Amandla!" (the Zulu word for "power") ends in triumph, with Nelson Mandela's release from prison and election to the presidency in 1994. Its spirit may inspire teens to delve into the American civil rights movement and its music.
TEARS OF THE SUN (R, 121 minutes)
A gripping action movie, "Tears of the Sun" takes on more serious themes as well, but with limited success. Inappropriate for high schoolers under 16, it portrays murderous ethnic cleansing with harrowing immediacy as rebel soldiers shoot and rape African villagers. The atrocities are shown with a non-exploitive subtlety that doesn't diminish their intensity or heinousness. While most of the war violence isn't graphic by R standards, it is occasionally gory. There's also profanity.
Bruce Willis as Lt. A.K. Waters leads a squadron of Navy SEALs into Nigeria during a (fictional) rebel takeover to rescue a doctor (Monica Bellucci, sporting too much mascara and cleavage) at a Catholic mission. When she refuses to leave without the refugees in her care, he breaks his career-long rule (and his orders) by getting involved. He and his men decide to help the group across the border, though the rebel army is in hot pursuit. High schoolers may find the movie inspiring because it shows U.S. fighters ignoring their orders and risking their lives to help the Wretched of the Earth. But the movie's premise seems far too simple for these complicated times.