Generally, I don't pop off about someone whose opinion of a movie
differs from mine. The fact that I review films for a living certainly
doesn't make my thoughts and feelings more valid than those of anyone
else. But as I sat in the packed auditorium at Loews College Park for
the sneak preview of "Big Momma's House," listening as the crowd roared
at the tired antics onscreen, I wondered if I had been magically
transported to some hellish netherworld and locked in a theater with the
combined studio audiences of "Married with Children" and "Hee Haw."
Veteran readers know that I enjoy a rowdy farce as much as the next guy.
I laughed at all the right places in "There's Something About Mary" and
even chuckled a few times at the old coot in "Next Friday." But the gags
in "Big Momma's House" have been done so many times before in other
films, and with so much more style, that I found it difficult to believe
grown ups could find them funny. Yet there they were, surrounding me,
hooting and howling like eight-year-olds at a fart festival.
Martin Lawrence plays ace FBI agent Malcolm Turner, hot on the trail of
Lester (Terrence Howard, so wonderful as the acerbic friend in "The Best
Man"), a murderous bank robber who has escaped from prison. Convinced
that Lester will seek out his former girlfriend, Sherry (Nia Long),
Malcolm and partner John (Paul Giamatti, wasted here) head for Georgia
to stake out the home of her grandmother, Big Momma (Ella Mitchell),
expecting Sherry and her son to take refuge there. When Big Momma leaves
town for a few days, Malcolm, who is also a master of disguise, dons a
fat suit, makeup and wig to masquerade as the foul-tempered old woman.
The plot is merely an excuse for a series of the sort of wheezy sketches
that routinely play out on those little link-sausage sitcoms that UPN
and the WB plug in between teen angst dramas and wrestling. Malcolm
hides in the shower and makes faces when Big Momma suffers explosive
diarrhea. Malcolm catches a glimpse of the obese woman's nude fanny and
makes more faces. Oh, the hilarity of it all.
The hijinks get more strained when Malcolm assumes her identity. Martin
Lawrence adopts a molasses accent and a welcoming persona to draw Sherry
and her young son Trent (Jascha Washington) closer. In demeanor and
appearance, he barely resembles the real Big Momma, but her friends and
neighbors don't seem to notice. Most of the jokes are built around the
stale notion that it's automatically funny when someone old and fat does
anything athletic. Big Momma kicks butt in karate class – what a scream!
Big Momma plays basketball and hangs off the rim after a slam-dunk –
stop it, you're killing me!
Two jokes were particularly annoying, because even a slapstick farce
should have internal logic. In one scene, the bogus Big Momma tries to
show "her" cooking prowess by making fried chicken. Malcolm, unskilled
in the kitchen, melts a stick of butter in a pan, then adds a big glob
of Crisco and some liquid shortening to boot. With about three inches of
the stuff bubbling away, he tosses the chicken into the skillet, then
prances around after being splattered by hot grease. If Malcolm is such
a bright FBI agent, how did he fail to ever learn that heat = danger?
Later, Sherry gets scared and asks to sleep with Big Momma. When the two
curl up in the spoon position, Sherry glances backwards and asks what's
pressing against her rear. Malcolm coos, "Oh honey, that's my
flashlight" and the audience squealed in glee at the ribald erection
joke. Pardon me, but given Malcolm's elaborate disguise, the only thing
pressing against Shelly's rear would have been about 15 inches of foam
If it sounds like I'm being extremely fussy, well, that's what I do when
I'm extremely bored. The Kids in the Hall proved that guys in drag could
still be funny. "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "The Nutty Professor" proved that
comic actors playing overweight matrons could still be funny. But the
only thing "Big Momma's House" proves is that even Martin Lawrence,
whose exuberance made last year's "Blue Streak" fun, can't salvage
witless, formulaic material like this.
Copyright © 2000 Edward Johnson-Ott