Big Momma's House

Directed by Raja Gosnell
Starring: Martin Lawrence, Nia Long, Paul Giamatti, Terrence Howard, Ella Mitchell, Jascha Washington.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude humor including sexual innuendo, and for language and some violence.

Review by Matt Heffernan
June 3, 2000

When I watch some films, I have an extraordinary sense of déjà vu. Their plot elements and characters are incredibly familiar -- so familiar, in fact, that I can't even place where they originated. When that film fails to garner sufficient attention, I torture myself by trying to figure out what film it is ripping off. Some may point to Mrs. Doubtfire when speaking of Big Momma's House, but this film's clichés are mostly different and entirely older.

Martin Lawrence stars as Malcolm, a master of disguise for the FBI. He and his partner, John (Paul Giamatti), are in pursuit of an escaped bank robber named Lester (Terrence Howard). They suspect that Lester will seek out his former girlfriend, Sherry (Nia Long), who has left her apartment with their son, Trent (Jascha Washington), upon hearing of the break-out.

They determine that she will visit her grandmother in Georgia: Hattie May Pierce (Ella Mitchell), also known as Big Momma. While staking out Big Momma's house from the house across the street (which, because this is a movie, was available for rent), Big Momma is called away on an emergency for the next week or so. Then, Sherry calls while the agents happen to be in Big Momma's house, and Malcolm answers as Big Momma. He then uses his unique skills to make a costume and a latex mask (made with equipment that they either had the foresight to bring with them, or was already in that house across the street) to pose as Big Momma and try to get some information out of Sherry when she comes to stay.

Obviously, this is what you would call a "high-concept" film. The audience has to be willing to believe that Malcolm can pass as this woman with her friends and family, despite being about six inches too tall. Basically, the entire cast has to be comprised of idiots. OK, fine, I'll accept that -- as long as the film is funny. Well, now we start to run into the real problems.

Even with this weird gimmick, Big Momma's House can't manage to come up with any original jokes. Tragedy plus time may equal comedy, but comedy plus time equals tragically bad comedy. This film's screenplay is like a child's riddle book, and the execution is like a six-year-old child, proud that he can finally read, bombarding you with the book's lame contents. In this case, however, they manage to throw in a contrived love story which does nothing for the film except to give it a proper Hollywood ending.

I suppose this film must appeal to some people. Lawrence is the kind of performer that has no shame, which is really required for this picture. There was a guy sitting in front of me who was really enjoying the silly antics, as if this were the first Hollywood comedy he had ever seen. My theory is he must have been under the influence of some wonderful drug, or was just an idiot. At any rate, he was the kind of person who could relate to Big Momma's House. I know that I'm not, and I hope, for your sake, that you are not either.

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Big Momma's House (2000)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan