Big Momma's House
review by Elias Savada, 2 June 2000

Big, broad, and ballsy, an overstuffed Martin Lawrence looms large in Big Momma’s House and appears ready to toss a gross-out shtick at Tom Cruise and his Mission: Impossible team one week after M:I-2 toppled Memorial Day Weekend records. The actor/comedian (and executive producer) continues his good guy/bad guy/wise guy obsession with law enforcement (Blue Streak, Life, Nothing to Lose, Bad Boys) and finally appears primed to move up the big league box office ladder toward that $100 million mark with his latest off-taste comedy. In the post-holiday aftermath, 20th Century-Fox’s Big Momma placed first with an opening day tally of $7.65 million, a smidgen above the Paramount Pictures caper film. Lawrence’s 1999 releases (Blue Streak and Life) each garnered about 6 1/2 million opening day before accumulating US grosses of between sixty to seventy million. His 1997 action hit Bad Boys, with Will Smith, earned similar dollar marks. Despite the fierce summer competition and without benefit of a strong co-star, Maryland-native Lawrence seems to have found a strong solo effort to crush the national competition.

The hackneyed, unbelievable script by Darryl Quarles and Don Rhymer is mild on originality and inspired as a skewered transmutation of Stakeout and Kindergarten Cop, with a pinch of MacGyver (a.k.a. 101 uses of duct tape). The storyline is one of the biggest illusions in the film, centering on the undercover and ultimately romantic shenanigans of hotshot, semi-insubordinate FBI agent Malcolm Turner (Lawrence) and his ulcer-bound sidekick John (Paul Giamatti). Only the Lawrence “charm,” hidden under a ton of rubber makeup makes the film work, with his off-color wide-size quips, padded physical pratfalls, and share-the-joke-with-the-audience situations. But work it does.

After an introductory bust of a Korean dog-fighting ring establishes Turner’s ability to disguise himself as a Seoul Man, the action moves from Los Angeles to a small Georgia hamlet, where the salt and pepper team set up surveillance across the street from Big Momma’s house. The film lays there for the next 90 minutes, a comic send/set up for the expected lame put down of the nasty-crafty Lester Vesco (Terrence Howard) an escaped bank robber in pursuit of his ex-girl friend Sherry Pierce (Boiler Room and Best Man star Nia Long) and two million in stolen loot. The titular fat lady is explained to be the “long lost” grandmother of the frightened object of the nasty criminal’s intentions. Genealogically speaking, I’m not sure how you can lose a grandparent, other than as a poorly scripted excuse to allow for assorted “Big Momma you sure look different” japes. I’ve found hundreds of lost cousins in search of my roots. I don’t know anyone who’s lost their parents’ parents? Estranged yes, but never lost. Perhaps this should be a chat thread over at

That digression aside, when the real Big Momma, Hattie Mae (Ella Mitchell) takes a powder to be with a friend out of town, the cool-headed Turner hightails it across the street, puts on some unsightly silicone corpulence, gets Tootsie-ized, and barely breaks a sweat just as single-mom Sherry arrives in town with her young son, Trent (Jascha Washington). As the heavily-disguised Turner welcomes the long absent grand-daughter, “she” cooks up a disgusting Crisco-smothered southern storm in Big Momma’s kitchen, turning stomachs in the audience and heads at Procter & Gamble’s product placement department, maker of the venerable all-vegetable shortening product. Like most of the humor in this fat-headed picture, it may be cheap and groan inducing, but it delivers triple X-sized laughs in a PG-13 framework.

The generally nosy but apparently slow-thinking locals don’t seem to connect the dots when their 325-pound friend and neighbor takes to slam-dunking basketballs against some kids picking on Trent; or, reminiscent of a segment I saw on television’s Martial Law, putting a self-interested karate “master” in his place with some choice moves. This is called suspension of belief for the uninformed. On the other side of the coin, Turner gets a few lessons in humility (although Lawrence imbues any such tutorials with hilarious supporting characters and heartfelt comic results), when unexpectedly forced to deliver a baby or revivalize the congregation at the local church with a rousing rendition of “Oh Happy Day.”

Often homebound but seldom boring, director Raja Gosnell, the editor of Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire, as well as helmer of Home Alone 3 and Never Been Kissed, is a comedy director who makes his third feature work with well executed slapstick episodes of often outrageous timing and expressively reactive eyework by Lawrence as he hides behind his makeup. He delivers a belly-full of crowd-pleasing antics, enough to wonder of Lawrence’s friend and sometimes co-star Eddie Murphy has his work cut out for him when Nutty Professor II: The Klumps arrives later this summer. The world, one hopes, is big enough for both of them.

Directed by:
Raja Gosnell

Martin Lawrence
Nia Lon
Paul Giamatti
Jascha Washington
Terrence Dashon Howard
Ella Mitchell

Written by:
Darryl Quarles
Don Rhymer



   Copyright © 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.