This is less a movie than a string of skits based on one concept — Martin Lawrence in a fat suit and a dress.
It’s a great concept, crossing two terrific movies: “Stakeout” and “Tootsie,” with a little bit of “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Some Like it Hot” and “Little Red Riding Hood” thrown in.
Malcolm (Martin Lawrence) and John (Paul Giamatti) are FBI agents trying to track down Lester (Terrence Howard), a bank robber who has escaped from prison. They set up a stakeout across the street from the home of “Big Momma,” the grandmother of Lester’s former girlfriend Sherry (Nia Long). Sherry arrives just as Big Momma leaves town, so Malcolm, a master of disguise, puts on a fat suit and a flowered housedress and is there to greet Sherry and her son Trent with open arms.
It’s a promising premise. But instead of a script, we get a series of situations, strung together in a lackluster story that underuses its three talented stars. Big Momma has to deliver a baby! Big Momma kicks butt at karate class and on the basketball court! Big Momma can’t cook! Big Momma sings in church! Sherry gets scared by a thunderstorm and crawls into bed with Big Momma! Oh, and by the way, Malcolm has to struggle with his feelings for Sherri because he thinks she was Lester’s accomplice and besides, he starts off the movie explaining that a wife and family are just a distraction for a lawman.
It’s a shame, because Lawrence (who also co-produced) is one of the funniest and most talented people around, and he does marvels at times in this movie. Even under all that silicone, he is able to use his eyes and body to hilarious effect. And even under all that broad comedy, he shows us a potential for tenderness and heart so enticing that we wish for more. Nia Long, so marvelous earlier this year in “Boiler Room” has sweetness, toughness, and humor, and it is always a pleasure to see Paul Giamatti, quickly becoming a top character actor.
Lawrence the producer should do better for Lawrence the performer. The script is very weak, relying heavily on bathroom humor, jokes about sexy old people, and “Big Momma’s” highly un-grandmotherly feelings for Sherri. Inconsistencies of plot and character keep the audience from connecting to the material.
Parents should know that the movie contains a lot of sexual humor and potty jokes. There is brief nudity, including the real Big Momma’s backside. Violence includes a menacing bad guy, characters in peril, fighting, and gunplay.
Families who see the movie should discuss Sherri’s mistake and how she handled it, stereotypes of the elderly, how we decide whom to trust, and the way that families support each other through bad times. The role of the church is nicely handled. Families with older children who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Tootsie,” “Stakeout,” “Some Like It Hot,” and Lawrence’s “Blue Streak.”