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'Big Momma's House'

Trim the fat: Martin Lawrence's farce gets tiresome in 'Big Momma's House'

Friday, June 02, 2000

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

So Martin Lawrence is an ace FBI agent, specializing in disguises, sent to a small Southern town with his jittery white partner (Paul Giamatti) to nab a nasty prison escapee if he tries to link up with his ex-girlfriend (Nia Long) there. She and her kid plan to hide out at the home of a 325-pound matriarch named Big Momma. But the agents get there first, and when Big Momma is suddenly called out of town, Lawrence seizes his chance to crack the case (and us up) by impersonating her.

'Big Momma's House'

RATING: PG-13 for sex and language

STARRING: Martin Lawrence, Nia Long, Paul Giamatti

DIRECTOR: Raja Gosnell

WEB SITE: www.bigmommas

CRITIC'S CALL: 2 stars


Such is life and farce in "Big Momma's House," directed by Raja Gosnell, whose previous credits consist of "Home Alone 3" and "Never Been Kissed." It has its moments, depending on how you define them. One great exchange early on: When a townslady inquires if Lawrence is married, he replies, "Not any more" in a somber tone. "Is she with Jesus?" the woman asks. "No," says Lawrence, "Jess is how he pronounces it."

Otherwise, fat and fart jokes galore. Dubious kitchen and karate comedy and a midwifing scene in which Big Momma delivers the baby with Crisco and an oven mitt. Plus a cloyingly sincere end that reconciles and makes all the mendacities of the script right in one 60-second stroke of non-genius before the fade.

But it must be said that the predominantly black audience loved it. A fine basketball sequence and a good flashlight-in-bed gag ranked particularly high on the laffometer.

It must also be said that gorgeous Nia Long is to die for and retains her dignity throughout a thanklessly serious role.

The comics? Paul Giamatti was very funny as Pig Vomit in Howard Stern's "Private Parts." Martin Lawrence was funny on his TV show and in last year's "Blue Streak" and "Life" with his mentor, Eddie Murphy, who was funny as a woman in "The Nutty Professor." Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams and Divine were all funny as females. But nothing is as funny the tenth time around. Guys playing women is a surefire way to get laughs, but in "Big Momma's House," I found it a drag.

What I really want to found is the SPCOA -- Society for the Prevention of Caricaturing Obese African-Americans. If black folks aren't offended by it, why should a cranky old honky be? I don't know. I'm an equal-opportunity offendee: Giamatti's pale-male buffoon struck me as equivalent in the year 2000 to the "Feet, do yo' stuff!" black-character cliche of 1940. I don't really care much. I'm just intrigued by the fine line between racist and racial stereotypes. Turnabout is fair play. But so must be turnabout to the turnabout, and the next shufflin' Negro -- if any white filmmaker ever dares to depict one again -- ought not to provoke any disproportionate outrage. Meanwhile, I'm not sure if it's black women, fat women, all women or all fat people for whom I conscientiously object (even as I hypocritically laugh). I am confused.

One more thing: Maybe someday Martin Lawrence will include a token non-idiot white or two in his movies.

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