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Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Retro Review: Big Momma's House (2000)

Big Momma's House
Cast: Martin Lawrence, Nia Long, Paul Giamatti, Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Tichina Arnold, Octavia Spencer, Cedric The Entertainer
Genre: Action Comedy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $173 million

Plot: In order to protect a beautiful woman and her son from a robber, a male FBI agent disguises himself as a grandmother 

'Throw This Momma Off The Train'

Though Big Momma's House is lauded as a broad comedy, much in the vein of say, Mrs Doubtfire and 1996's The Nutty Professor, compared to the former, there is practically very little here that constitutes as being funny and humourous with a heartwarming and engaging feel. That, and unlike Robin Williams, Martin Lawrence's comedic range movie-wise, it can be argued, is limited with him playing fast-talking, energetic straight man characters. During his TV sitcom, Martin, he manages to ratchet up the silliness but since he transitioned towards films, it is as such his comic physicality and improv work gets lost. He's not as effective playing it straight, but even as a funny guy he underwhelms. In Big Momma's House, it's more of a case of him being funny, but most of the gags are just either tired, unfunny or poorly conceived. & his voice that he puts on as Big Momma becomes grating.

FBI agent, Malcolm Turner and his partner, Jon are sent to spy on a house belonging to a woman going by the acronym of Big Momma in a little town in Georgia. A bank robber, Lester has got out of prison, & presumably trying to track down his estranged ex-girlfriend, Sherry, who is in everyone else's eyes, is his accomplice, and who has probably stolen the money too. Sherry shows up at Big Momma's house and with that, Malcolm poses as big momma - with the real big momma leaving town. From here, he tries to protect Sherry, whilst also keeping a lookout for Lester, but as he does, Malcolm develops feelings for Sherry.

Oscar-winning make-up effects artist, Greg Cannom, who worked on Mrs Doubtfire, lends his efforts in the prosthetics department and large constructed fat suits and whilst physical humour, pratfalls are considered the cheapest forms of laughter as they pander towards the lowest common denominator, in many cases, for me, in Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, Leslie Nielsen, they still entertain and put a smile on face. And as equally important, I understand, get and enjoy their humour.

But besides the poor slapstick and humour (one involving an almost tasteless toilet bowel scene reminiscent of the one in Dumb & Dumber), the storyline doesn't make inroads and the rest of the performances are as one-note, bland and are terribly underwritten. Paul Giamatti, Nia Long, Terrence Howard, especially; the trio of whom can be great performers in their other films, - and yet they are heedlessly cast in throwaway roles. There is nothing new here that hasn't been attempted or done before elsewhere; from the man in drag act, as seen in Tootsie, Mrs Doubtfire to the cop formula executed in other and better cop-based comedies and movies. & contrary to some, Martin Lawrence has done drag before, as Shaniqua in the sitcom, Martin and as over-the-top and barmy as his turn is in that show, the series made better use of Martin Lawrence's talents. As Big Momma, it doesn't work that well and beneath the make-up, there is nothing else to support it and the prosthetics by Greg Cannom on Lawrence's momma doesn't look as impressive as Robin Williams's Mrs Doubtfire. Mrs Doubtfire looks indistinguishable from Robin Williams, but Big Momma looks way too much like Martin Lawrence. That, and unlike Tootsie's Michael as Dorothy and Mrs Doubtfire's Daniel, I never really bought Martin as Malcolm dressed up as Momma as a woman. 

I dig low-brow comedy films but this was one hell of a dud, the laughs and comedy moments are so scattered and so few with most of the slapstick and jokes not landing as well as they should've. The chemistry between Martin Lawrence and Nia Long didn't come through for me, with Nia in particular, who looks out of place here; whereas with Martin, whilst comedy is his forte, he just hasn't been in a solo-led outing effort that tests his worth as a comedic actor.

Martin Lawrence's attempts to become the so-called Eddie Murphy from the 1990s into the 2000s fizzled out and yet despite being one of the producers of this film, it was a surprise, not forgetting it is disappointing that he doesn't manage to do, add or try different things. There is nothing here that I haven't seen elsewhere; it just recycles the same cliches and stuff from Mrs Doubtfire, Tootsie and the film itself becomes less entertaining and a mundane bore. 

Alas, Big Momma's House is flabby and whilst this film and several others garnered him millions at the box office, Martin Lawrence, didn't and even to this day, still hasn't reached the movie megastar potential that once made fellow stand-up comics, Eddie Murphy & Robin Williams household names in the 1980s with the former and 1990s with the latter.

Final Verdict:

As drag comedies go, this turns out to be a thoroughly stale, weak, undemanding and underwhelming comedy that comes across as being too busy at setting up each cheap sketch piece next to each other. It just doesn't feel like a comedy film. 

Whereas Tootsie and Mrs Doubtfire were both ambitious, alongside memorable turns by Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange for Tootsie and Robin Williams for the latter, they had just enough charm to coast through and to make the man-in-drag act work..... Big Momma's House, unfortunately, takes this formula and still, there just wasn't enough feel-good and laugh-out-loud, outlandish moments to make it more watchable. 

This was a lull fest.


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