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'Big Momma': Big Laughs

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 2, 2000


    'Big Momma's House' Martin Lawrence goes undercover in "Big Momma's House." (Twentieth Century Fox)
Are you ready for big?

You better be, for "Big Momma's House," Martin Lawrence's new comedy. As an FBI agent who's forced to disguise himself as the XXX-sized Hattie Mae, better known as Big Momma, he doesn't just go undercover. He couldn't if he tried. Big Momma wouldn't fit undercover.

So, how big is Big Momma? Drum roll, please. She's so big – as one audience member joked – when the cops see her walking down the street, they say "Break it up!"


Lawrence plays Malcolm Turner, a federal agent on the trail of a dangerous bank robber named Lester (Terrence Howard), who's stolen $2 million and has busted out of jail. The FBI's only lead is Lester's ex, Sherry (Nia Long), who may be in cahoots with Lester and may have the money.

So Malcolm and his partner, John (Paul Giamatti), track Sherry and her young son, Trent (Jascha Washington), as they make a beeline for rural Georgia to stay with her estranged mother, Hattie Mae. That would be Big Momma (Ella Mitchell), a no-nonsense baseball-bat wielder, who thinks nothing of tossing pit bulls out of her yard.

Is Sherry hiding from Lester or planning to meet him? Does she have the money? The agents move in across the street, armed with surveillance equipment. But just before Sherry arrives, the real Big Momma (unaware Sherry is coming) is called away to tend to a sick relative.

Now they have a problem. Someone's got to play Big Momma, so Sherry isn't scared off. Malcolm (who has donned latex disguises before as an agent) fits himself with elephant-sized prosthetics, affects a maternal drawl and struts around in garments so big (here we go) that Christo could wrap two bridges with them.

Yeah, it's a pretty iffy premise. But it's the perfect setup for Lawrence to play it big. Which is what he does best, after all. There are no little laughs in "Big Momma's House," directed by Raja Gosnell and written by Darryl Quarles and Don Rhymer. It's stacked with slapstick, whether Malcolm's trying to keep his false body parts from slipping or trying (painfully) to avoid an embarrassing reaction when Sherry slips into bed next to "her" one cuddly night.

Naturally, there's story business to take care of. True to "Tootsie" form, Malcolm becomes attracted to Sherry and has to stop himself from getting too friendly. And not only must Malcolm avoid Sherry's suspicions, as his wig keeps falling off, he's got to bond with Trent, who needs a little TLC. And of course, it's just a matter of time before two ominous figures come home: Lester and the original lady of the house.

But most of the time, thankfully, the filmmakers know the deal: Set Lawrence loose. And he delivers – literally in one case.

When Malcolm finds out the real Momma is a midwife, he has to act with as much authority as he can muster. When he's presented with a woman on the verge of delivery, he asks for the appropriate tools: hot water, towels, oven gloves and Crisco. Another Malcolm delivery trick: Screaming with utter panic.

But you ain't seen nothing till you've seen this Big Momma in church. In the showstopper scene of the movie, Big Momma testifies at church, leading the congregation in a rousing version of "Oh Happy Day." Churchgoing folk don't usually roll and heave their hips like that. At this point, if you're not rolling in the aisles, you're definitely in the wrong theater.

BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE (PG-13, 117 minutes) – Contains obscenity, slapstick violence.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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