Big Momma’s House

Big Momma's House

This sight will give a kid nightmares for years to come.

(2000) Urban Crime Comedy (20th Century Fox) Martin Lawrence, Nia Long, Paul Giamatti, Jascha Washington, Terrence Dashon Howard, Anthony Anderson, Ella Mitchell, Carl Wright, Phyllis Applegate, Starletta DuPois. Directed by Raja Gosnell

One thing about Hollywood. If you like a concept, just wait around awhile. It will show up in some other movie, only with a different title.

I’m pretty fond of Martin Lawrence. He’s turning into a terrific comic actor, with impressive performances in Nothing to Lose and Bad Boys (among others) under his belt. Here, he plays Malcolm, a gung-ho FBI agent who’s watched Mission: Impossible perhaps a wee bit too often. He’s known for his latex disguises and kung fu moves, which qualifies him as a cross between Ethan Hunt, Jackie Chan and Jimmy “J.J.” Walker, the last for his smoooooooooth style with the ladies.

He’s working on a case in which a vicious bank robber (Howard) has escaped from prison (where he was doing time for murdering the bank guard in cold blood) and is going after his ex-girlfriend Sherie (Long), who worked at the bank he robbed. She’s thought to have been involved with the robbery, although nothing was ever proved. Since the money was never recovered, she is being watched as the cops think that her erstwhile beau will be paying her a visit to recover the loot.

She, of course, takes it immediately on the lam, so Malcolm and his partner John (Giamatti) stake out her estranged grandmother’s house in Georgia. The two were once close, but have since grown apart. When Big Momma (Ella Mitchell) is called out of town suddenly, Malcolm assumes her identity when her granddaughter phones to say she’s coming for a visit. Malcolm hopes she’ll confide in her grandmother, but instead winds up falling for the gal, as well as for her cute-as-a-button son Trent (Washington). Of course, we know that eventually the ex is going to make an appearance and Big Momma is gonna have to save the day.

Think Mrs. Doubtfire meets Kindergarten Cop, southern fried. There are some comic possibilities in the concept but unfortunately the execution here doesn’t work. For starters, the script is not terribly well-written, and Da Queen and I were predicting – accurately, I might add – what each next plot point would be well before it actually happened. There are no surprises  and the humor could charitably described as meant for unsophisticated minds. For a comedy, it rarely brings a smile, much less a chuckle. That’s inexcusable because Lawrence is one of the funniest comic minds working today.

Just putting a male actor in drag isn’t funny in and of itself. In Mrs. Doubtfire Robin Williams used it as a springboard to examine attitudes towards women and the aged, but then, he had a better script to work with. Lawrence is talented, but even he can’t overcome a cliche-ridden script that was as tired as a narcoleptic at an Al Gore lecture. While he has some nice byplay with Giamatti (who was at the time not terribly well-known in Hollywood) and Long is an attractive and competent actress, the sparks really fail to generate and most of the time these talented actors are just wasting their time – and ours.

If you’re going to make a comedy with Lawrence, give the man room to work his magic. Stuffing him in a fat suit and a dress is a gimmick but even that they don’t use effectively. The exception is a scene in which Lawrence as Big Momma schools some playground kids in the art of roundball. See, that’s funny.

Big Momma’s House made big box office, which is certain proof of impending apocalypse. Watching this is cinematic deja vu; you’ll get the feeling you’ve seen this one before. Unfortunately, it’ll be deja vu in a dentist’s chair … as the drill begins to whirr.

WHY RENT THIS: Martin Lawrence is one of the better comedians in Hollywood. Long is easy on the eyes.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A script that’s as predictable as a Tea Party newsletter. Some fair talents are wasted and Lawrence’s considerable skills are largely unused.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a decent amount of foul language as well as some cruel, sexually-based humor. There’s also a smattering of violence, mostly of a comic variety.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The name Big Momma came from screenwriter Darryl Quarles’ childhood; that was the name the neighborhood kids used to call his own mother.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There are a couple of music videos, a make-up test for Big Momma (during which Lawrence improvises some stuff that’s funnier than what’s in the movie) and an animated opening that was scrapped.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $174.0M on a $30M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: The Help

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