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With: Martin Lawrence, Nia Long, Paul Giamatti, Jascha Washington, Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Ella Mitchell, Carl Wright, Phyllis Applegate, Starletta DuPois, Jessie Mae Holmes, Nicole Prescott, Octavia L. Spencer, Tichina Arnold, Cedric the Entertainer, Philip Tan, Brian Palermo
Written by: Darryl Quarles, Don Rhymer
Directed by: Raja Gosnell
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude humor including sexual innuendo, and for language and some violence
Running Time: 98
Date: 05/31/2000

Big Momma's House (2000)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Bulk Male

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The new Martin Lawrence comedy Big Momma's House is far from being the worst movie of the year. Most of its jokes fall flat and its attempt at storytelling is stale, but it has a few small chuckles and a funny lead performance.

Lawrence reminds me of an old vaudevillian performer, someone like Nathan Lane or Robin Williams, who tries very hard to make us laugh. He doesn't have any grasp on minute, intricate comic timing like Bill Murray or Eddie Murphy. He just comes on full-steam, pummeling us with jokes until one of them hits. It's this approach that lets him get away with dressing up as Big Momma, the neighborhood matriarch in a Southern town.

Lawrence is an FBI agent and a master of disguise. He and his partner (Paul Giamatti) are on the trail of an escaped killer (Terrence Howard). They follow the killer's former girlfriend (Nia Long) and her son (Jascha Washington) to Big Momma's house. When Big Momma leaves for a few weeks Lawrence goes undercover as the large lady (never mind that Lawrence in his makeup doesn't really look very much like the real Big Momma, played by Ella Mitchell).

Big Momma's House is directed by Raja Gosnell, who took a similar premise with Never Been Kissed (1999) and made it work charmingly. Big Momma's House lacks charm, but is a lot better than Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), another cross-dressing comedy on which Gosnell was editor. That movie long overstayed its welcome and drifted into treacly drama, afraid of being "just" a comedy. Big Momma's House suffers from no such fears, and allows Lawrence to play center stage.

That's too bad for co-stars Nia Long and Terrence Howard, who were both so good in Malcolm Lee's The Best Man (1999). Here, you wouldn't know that they actually had any talent or presence. The project is designed so that Lawrence steamrolls over everyone else involved.

The funniest scenes involve Lawrence hiding in Big Momma's bathroom and Lawrence playing basketball disguised as Big Momma. Lawrence, hidden by the makeup, uses his eyes and mouth to great effect. He makes you believe that the townsfolk would all fall in love with his Big Momma, despite the obvious makeup. The rest of the movie's jokes include the usual sex jokes and locker-room humor. Anyone who goes to see Big Momma's House will probably get exactly what they expect. I did. For a much better Lawrence movie, though, check out Ted Demme's Life (1999), also starring Eddie Murphy.

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