Big Momma’s House ( )
THIS mildly amusing comedy features all the elements which make it resolutely a ‘B’ picture: a try-hard star, a hackneyed plot and papier-mache plotline.
The story, such as it is, thows FBI agent Malcolm Turner (Martin Lawrence) into the midst of a Southern State town as he impersonates the corpulent Big Momma of the title in an attempt to persuade her granddaughter to divulge details of her runaway convict lover and, in doing so, recover $2 million in stolen cash.
The comedy is hit-and-miss. Lawrence, barely recognisible in heavy prosthetic make-up and shrieking accent, is over-the-top, and the film’s best asset, weaselly-faced Paul Giamatti as Lawrence’s FBI buddy, is criminally under-used.
The short-comings of Big Momma’s House become apparent as soon as Lawrence is revealed as possessing ‘remarkable’ skills of impersonation. What better plot device than to have him adopt the persona of a 300lb black pensioner while the real lady is away?
Wrong. What we are presented with are situations plundered wholesale from both Mrs Doubtfire, Tootsie (which did it first) and The Nutty Professor, but without the talents of Robin Williams or Eddie Murphy.
In fact, Lawrence lacks most of the qualities which have made stars of his peers. He’s a laboured comic actor, possessing neither the skill nor outrageous ‘cheeky chappie’ personality of Murphy, or the charisma and handsomeness of Will Smith.
And while Robin Williams’s career has gone steadily down the pan over the past decade, he was, at least in Mrs Doubtfire, capable of breathing life into a vaguely believable character.
It’s interesting, then, that the editor of Mrs Doubtfire, Raja Gosnell, here dons the director’s hat for Big Momma’s House.
Big Momma, in the guise of Lawrence, boasts neither believability nor any significant dose of comedy. A lumpen romance, seemingly chucked in to hasten the story along, only manages to slow the proceedings even further.
Star vehicles are common currency in modern Hollywood, but this one is seriously weaker than most. How can it be considered anything more when Lawrence is continuously out-played by Giamatti – so good in Private Parts and Man on the Moon – with even the blandest lines?
Giamatti is a fine comic foil (witness his run-ins with Howard Stern in Private Parts, and his support to Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon) but he has to be given his own moments. Here, Lawrence deliberately seeks to hog everything.
The whole preposterous scenario asks us to check in our believability at the door. We did it with Mrs Doubtfire, but that was a creation; here Lawrence is deliberately impersonating a real woman. Nevertheless, partly because the real Big Momma is off screen for 90 per cent of the picture, he carries it off – just.
Lawrence is not bad at this stuff but, given what has gone before, it’s immediately forgettable.