Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Big Momma's House

By Kimberley Jones

JUNE 12, 2000: 

D: Raja Gosnell; with Martin Lawrence, Nia Long, Paul Giamatti, Terrence Howard, Ella Mitchell. (PG-13, 98 min.)

It takes Big Momma's House all of seven minutes to slide the first fart joke in. Of course, that's exactly why one goes to see Big Momma's House, but somebody decided to slip some "serious issues" into the mix as well, including themes such as Honesty, Social Responsibility, and Good Old-Fashioned Family Values. In a Martin Lawrence vehicle, I'll take fart jokes any day of the week. Lawrence stars as FBI agent Malcolm Turner, who goes undercover as Big Momma, a cornbread-baking Southern matriarch. Malcolm needs Big Momma as an alias in order to track down an escaped convict, Lester (Howard). Lester's a mean, nasty man (read: He wears black and chain-smokes). Lester also happens to be the ex-boyfriend of Big Momma's granddaughter, Sherry (Long). Along the way, Malcolm falls for Sherry (who may or may not be criminally involved with Lester) and her cute young son. Lawrence excels as Big Momma, and rises above the film's unremarkable direction (care of Raja Gosnell, of Home Alone 3 fame), substandard dialogue (screenplay by Darryl Quarles and Don Rhymer), and a plot cribbed mercilessly from Kindergarten Cop. Grimacing through his latex layers of wrinkles, strapped into Big Momma's Orca-fat padding, Lawrence achieves moments of true hilarity. Any time Big Momma gets physical, things get funny. Particularly standout is a scene in which Big Momma commandeers a senior-citizen self-defense class, enlisting a small army of septuagenarians to "take back the night." Unfortunately, Lawrence only spends half the movie as the warrior-grandma. The other half he plays it straight, as Malcolm. The words "Martin Lawrence" and "romantic lead" don't bode particularly well together, and the scenes in which he attempts to woo Sherry are painful to watch. Frankly, Malcolm's a big weenie. Therein lies the film's downfall: It won't own up to what it really is. It's a lowbrow, bathroom-humor, Sunday-afternoon-with-nothing-better-to-do kind of movie, and that's fine. That's fun. But instead, Big Momma's House aims for something more, attempting to inject a conscience into a movie that should simply be a guilty pleasure. In that effort, it kills any comic momentum it might have. Whenever the movie descends into dramatic territory, it's hard not to check one's watch impatiently and pray for another fart. Shuffling out of the theatre after watching the 98-minute mess of mediocrity that is Big Momma's House, I overheard the six-year old in front of me pronounce: "Mommy, that movie was really bad." Considering poop jokes usually score pretty big with the six-year old set, I'd say that's a rather damning declaration, and one I couldn't agree with more.

1.5 Stars

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