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Big Momma's House (Special Edition) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 06 March 2001

Big Momma's House

20th Century Fox Home Video
starring: Martin Lawrence, Nia Long, Paul Giamatti, Terrence Howard
release year: 2000
film rating: Three Stars
sound/picture: Two-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

"Big Momma’s House" is a serviceable cop/mistaken identity comedy that marries "Stakeout" to "Mrs. Doubtfire." The Martin Lawrence vehicle is funny despite its predictability. Its central joke is as surefire as it is obvious: an undercover FBI agent is forced to pose as a 300-pound Southern grandmother in order to capture a murderous fugitive.

Lawrence plays Malcolm Turner, who is already known to his Bureau colleagues as a workaholic master of disguise, amusingly established in an energetic opening sequence. Malcolm and his partner (Paul Giamatti) are only supposed to plant listening devices in the home of a Georgia widow, whose granddaughter Sherry (Nia Long) may be mixed up with an escaped convict who got away with millions in loot. Big Momma leaves town just when Sherry shows up, not having seen her grandma for a number of years. In order to keep Sherry from leaving town, Malcolm digs into his bag of tricks and manages to pass himself off as the large, elderly matriarch.

Director Raja Gosnell worked as a film editor on "Mrs. Doubtfire," so he’s already had some experience with the rhythms of a high-energy hero in drag as a hefty senior citizen of the opposite sex. Lawrence pulls it off perfectly. Much as we do with Eddie Murphy in the "Nutty Professor" films, we buy the gender-, age- and size-altered persona readily. Indeed, often the humor comes less from the notion that we’re watching a masquerading FBI agent than from seeing the redoubtable old lady be firm with those around here. (The movie doesn’t condescend to the character, as the "real" Big Momma is just about as formidable as Malcolm’s ringer.)

The screenplay by Darryl Quarles and Don Rhymer, from Quarles’ story, moves smoothly from one comedic setpiece to the next. The plot dynamics are clear, although the schematics dealing with the bank robber/murderer villain couldn’t be more flat. Despite director Gosnell’s enthusiasm on the audio commentary track, the filmmakers seem to have so little interest in anything apart from their star that the movie practically stops every time Lawrence leaves the screen. Still, Long is a winsome love interest and Giamatti makes a good sidekick.

The sound is decent, though surprisingly little use is made of the rear channels. Chapter 5 offers a nice rap tune as Martin and his partner work up the Big Momma look, and Chapter 6 has a very realistic smoke alarm, mixed with some effectively crackling flames. Chapter 10, which has one of the film’s funniest scenes – "Big Momma" taking on an insensitive self-defense instructor – also has a commendably dimensional gunshot and especially crisp dialogue. However, by the time we get around to a storm in Chapter 14 and a big church gospel number in Chapter 15, the lack of substantial presence in the rears is noticeable. We get a bit of thunder on the former and some handclaps on the latter, but not nearly enough sound to make us feel that we’re surrounded, either by extreme weather or by a singing crowd.

The supplemental material includes a makeup test that includes what seems to be an improvised-on-the-spot cooking riff by Lawrence, a couple of deleted scenes and an okay outtake reel, along with a standard "making-of" short.

"Big Momma’s House" is reliably funny and affectionate toward its characters. It’s not especially original or creative, but it works admirably on its own terms (apart from its retiring rear channels, that is).

more details
sound format:
English 5.1 Surround; English Dolby Surround; French Dolby Surround
aspect ratio(s):
Original 1.85:1
special features: Making-Of Featurette; Audio Commentary Track with Director Raja Gosnell and Producer David T. Friendly; Make-Up Test; Deleted Sequences with Optional Director Commentary; Outtakes/Bloopers; "Bounce With Me" Music Video by Lil Bow Wow; "I’ve Got to Have It" Music Video by Jermaine Dupri featuring NAS and Monica; Theatrical and TV Trailers; English Closed-Captioning; Spanish Subtitles
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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