A scene from 'Big Momma's House'
Courtesy Photo
*1/2 stars 95 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Friday, June 2, 2000
Directed by Raja Gosnell

Starring Martin Lawrence, Nia Long, Paul Giamatti, Terrence Howard & Ella Mitchell


The few laughs available here won't seem half as funny without a theater full of other people laughing a little too.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 11.14.2000


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FBI agent Martin Lawrence goes undercover as a fat granny in tedious 'Big Momma's House'

By Rob Blackwelder

There are two jokes in "Big Momma's House," Martin Lawrence's flimsy stab at "Mrs. Doubtfire"-style costume comedy:

1) Lawrence made up in a wig and a fat lady rubber suit.

2) Lawrence made up in a wig and a fat lady rubber suit, staring lustfully at Nia Long's backside and shrieking "Damn!" in a bad falsetto.

If 95 minutes of those two gags over and over is your idea of a knee-slapping good time, don't let me stop you from seeing the movie. Go. Have fun.

But anyone expecting more than such stale, underwhelming hilarity isn't likely to be impressed with the bone-headed guffaws and the tent pole plot that has Lawrence playing an FBI agent who has gone undercover as a Southern granny to catch a dangerous escaped bank robber (Terence Howard).

The real Big Momma (Ella Mitchell) has been called away on some unexplained family emergency just before her sweet 'n' sexy granddaughter (Long) -- the bank robber's ex -- comes to hide out after hearing her former beau is on the lam. Agent Lawrence thinks she was in on the heist and plans to snag the her, the robber and the still-missing loot in one fell swoop.

Of course, he develops a jones for the girl and finds a way to romance her -- sans disguise -- by buddying up to her 8-year-old son. What a guy.

Editor-turned-director Raja Gosnell makes no attempt to develop characters, patch hemorrhaging plot holes or explain why no one wonders where Big Momma goes whenever Lawrence shows up as himself. He's too busy setting up the next cheap sketch set piece:

Martin Lawrence in a fat lady rubber suit kicking butt at a self-defense class! Martin Lawrence in a fat lady suit kicking butt in a pick-up game of basketball! Martin Lawrence in a fat lady suit belting out church spirituals! Martin Lawrence in a fat lady suit fending off randy old men! Martin Lawrence in a fat lady suit having to deliver a baby! Martin Lawrence duck-taping his face when the fat lady suit busts a seam!

And inevitably, Martin Lawrence in a fat lady suit coming face to face with the real Big Momma and the bank robber at the same time.

The saddest thing about "Big Momma's House" is that it wastes a talented cast in roles that force them to act like idiots in order for the plot to advance.

Nia Long has proven herself confident, skilled and very appealing in half a dozen movies over the last few years (e.g. "The Best Man," "lovejones," "Soul Food"), yet she continues to take roles as pliant girlfriends who bring about happy endings by forgiving their boyfriends for being liars and cheats. Just two weeks ago she did it in "Held Up," and now this. Oh, you're not really my grandma? How deceptive of you! I hate you! Come back in five minutes, look regretful and I'll give you a kiss.

Bull frog-faced character actor Paul Giamatti steals a few scenes with his corrosive wit as Lawrence's fed up partner. But this is not one of his definitive performance, like when he played Pig Vomit the flabbergasted radio producer in "Private Parts."

As for the highly capable Lawrence, he needs to stop making these forgettable -- and progressively more dreadful -- gimmick movies before he winds up degrading himself in a string of moronic father (then grandfather) figure supporting parts in even lower genre comedies like "Booty Call."

The only quality laugh in "Big Momma's House" comes in the opening scene, in which a frail old man starts kung-fu kicking the crap out some young Asian mobster punks. One of them grabs the geezer by what's left of his hair, then his face splits open and out pops Lawrence, sporting his best "you so crazy" grin.

It's a much more entertaining unmasking than any of the similar scenes in last week's feeble "Mission: Impossible" sequel. But the rest of "Big Momma" is all downhill from there.

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