In a more innocent time when police corruption meant
simply stealing rather than shooting unarmed civilians, Frank
Serpico went under cover to expose the deeds of some of his
unscrupulous fellow officers. Sidney Lumet's movie about
this hero--who had to leave his country to take us residence
in Switzerland--was not without humor, one of the most
amusing parts focussing on the title character disguised as a
Hasidic man and more. The cop in "Big Momma's House"
may be like the champion of Lumet's 1973 movie in one way.
He is the bearer of false identity, but lacks the variety
enjoyed by Serpico. While "Serpico" featured an authentic
blend of comedy and drama, in making "Big Momma's House,
director Raja Gosnell aims strictly at our funny bone.
Gosnell's aim is off. "Big Momma's House" gives even the
notion of summer movies a bad name. Utilizing one of the
oldest and moldiest species of comedy--female
impersonation--Gosnell is not even good at creating anything
original. Ripping off a scene far better done by Tony Curtis
and Marilyn Monroe in "Some Like It Hot" and generally
filching from the modern forerunner of the genre, "Mrs.
Doubtfire," this one is merely a showcase for the talent
of a crackerjack comic, Martin Lawrence, but proves only that
Lawrence can be far better when he's just himself and not
decked out as a 400-pound cliche.
The simple plot, which is nothing more than an excuse for
foisting one unfunny sitcomish bit after another on the
audience, could fit right into a six o'clock sitcom. Even the
outdoor scenes look as though they were wheeled in for use
by CBS or NBC TV. In this tale, FBI Agent Malcolm Turner
(Martin Lawrence), together with his competent but comical
sidekick (Paul Giamatti), is on the trail of an escaped killer
(Terrence Howard). The FBI guesses that the perp is looking
for his former girl friend, Sherry (Nia Long), who may herself
be on the run and headed for the house of her estranged
relative, Big Momma.
Robin Williams had a far superior script and concept to
work with in Chris Columbus's 1993 film "Mrs. Doubtfire."
Lawrence, by contrast, is left with the most banal exertions at
physical comedy. Disguised as Big Momma--who outweighs
him by about 250 pounds--Lawrence is given the most
predictable responsibilities, obligations which include fixing
his ample bosom when it gets out of alignment, cooking pork
chops with a couple of sticks of lard and half a bottle of
Crisco, and supporting a rubber mask whose construction is
hardly as adept as the ones used by Tom Cruise and
company in "M:I-2." The mask begins to tear, the pork chops
are burned to a crisp, the boobs go a-bobbin' and Lawrence
ponders how he can make a hit on Sherry when Sherry
simply does not have romantic feelings for her Big Momma.
The scenes that have some possibility of functioning are
one which finds Nia Long cuddling up in bed with the
incognito FBI agent (who must convince the comely young
woman that what she feels in bed is only a flashlight) and
another involving the alleged Big Momma giving a sadistic
karate instructor his comeuppance. There is also some
snappy gospel singing and a sentimental ending that turns
Agent Malcolm Turner from a man who has acquired the
hostility of the townsfolk into the citizens' hero after the
agent's unconvincing four-minute "testimony" to the
congregation. Rent Ted Demme's 1999 movie "Life" to see
what Lawrence is really capable of doing when he has a story
that juxtaposes genuine poignancy with good, broad comedy.
Copyright © 2000 Harvey Karten