Fox // 2006 // 99 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // May 26th, 2006
The Momma of all comedies is back.
Having retired to a desk job inside the bureau, FBI agent Malcolm Turner (Martin Lawrence, Bad Boys 2) longs for the days when he was part of the law enforcement front. Somehow, playing a silly safety eagle for grade-schoolers is just not that fulfilling to the former field agent. When he stumbles upon a high-tech computer crime case, our hopped-up hero decides it's time to get back in the game. Using his disguise skills, he pulls out his "Big Momma" persona and goes undercover in the ritzy Fuller household to see what part Mr. Fuller plays in the investigation. Naturally, his new bride cannot know about the stake-out and his bosses don't want him involved in any more unauthorized surveillance. Still, Turner can't control himself and eventually he endears himself to the entire Fuller family. At first, the case seems open and shut -- hackers are working with Fuller's software firm to create the ultimate virus, a computer program that can break into any encrypted system. This leads to questions, though. Who's manipulating the man behind the scenes? What are they ultimately interested in? It will take all of Turner's skills as both an agent and as a nanny to solve this one -- and he may just work a little Big Momma magic on the dysfunctional families involved...including his own.
It's hard to blame an actor for revisiting the cinematic scene of past triumphs when their current filmic fortunes fade. At one time, Martin Lawrence ruled the box office. Instead of the caustic Chris Tucker or the dour Danny Glover before that, the African-American comic was the sidekick of choice for several successful buddy/action films. From his initial breakout roles in Do the Right Thing and the House Party series, Lawrence triumphed in Bad Boys (and its awful sequel), Nothing to Lose (alongside Tim Robbins), Life (with Lawrence's personal idol Eddie Murphy), Blue Streak (featuring then-relative-newcomer Luke Wilson), and several stand-up concert offerings. Still, it was when he mimicked another crazy comedian -- the hirsute and hyperactive Robin Williams -- with his take-off on Mrs. Doubtfire that he reached a kind of celebrity crossroads. The film, Big Momma's House, was a huge hit and capped a comeback for the actor. Previously, erratic personal behavior and run-ins with the law had threatened to derail his potentially profitable occupation. With the cross-dressing crime comedy under his belt, Lawrence went on to command huge salaries while handpicking projects best suited for his newfound fame. Sadly, said efforts have all but destroyed his current movie marketability (anyone who has seen Black Knight or Rebound understands why).
So it's back to Big Momma for another run at retread glory. Unlike the first film, which saw Lawrence don the fat female suit as part of an FBI effort to protect an important witness, this new movie has more of a Mr. Nanny set up. Sure, there is still a crime involved (something about a computer virus that can unlock all of the U.S. Government's most secret Web sites) and the comic's character is still going undercover to sort out the situation, but now the narrative elements seem geared around child-rearing and sexual innuendo, not just cops and robbers. Both movies try to domesticate Lawrence's freewheeling persona, locking him into simple story facets like uncontrollable children, distant and slightly deranged parents, and a desire to keep this latest trek into transvestitism from his pregnant wife. In truth, the narrative is just an excuse to get Lawrence looking like a lady (actually, a rather elephantine old lady) and have him muck about. If you enjoyed the stifling slapstick of the first film, if you think anyone dressed up like an aged granny ogling women and bumping and grinding is non-stop hilarity, if watching the entire post-modern racial dynamic of the United States being reduced to a master and servant scenario puts you in stitches, you might enjoy this movie. Otherwise it's 90 minutes of mindless dreck.
One of the main reasons this movie is so miserable is that Lawrence is hemmed in by the family-friendly facets of the PG-13 rating. Instead of letting loose with his notoriously naughty potty mouth, he is forced to play nice -- and even more disturbingly, PC -- while the Caucasian cast members get to score off his minority status. Where a film like this could work is in the turning of tables (sassy black nanny turns tables on uptight whiteys) and the busting of some mofo stereotypes. But none of that occurs here. Indeed, when a group of rhythmically-challenged cheerleaders are looking for someone with the inherent ability to shake their groove thing, they unsurprisingly look Big Momma's way. All the jokes aim at an extremely obvious level of laughs (Big Momma on the beach, Bo Derek from 10 style, or Big Momma in a towel at the spa) and the logic leaps are impressive in their idiocy. When she visits a spa, Big Momma has hot rocks placed on her back. The movie infers that they are so warm they would melt the foam rubber body suit Lawrence is wearing. So would they not also char the flesh off of a normal person? Also, the makeup is so elaborate that no one ever guesses that there's a man inside the matron. Yet the clandestine coverage can be moved and replaced at will, similar to Superman's phone booth identity-changing skills. While no one is clamoring for realism in this type of movie (it is mindless comedy, after all), when you're humor is half-assed, you begin to notice these obvious occlusions.
With villains who are nameless, featureless plot jockeys, inert performances by everyone in the cast, and an overall feeling of being warmed over and repetitive, Big Momma's House 2 is just a poorly concealed cash grab -- a chance for a fading star to bank some bucks, especially since they don't have Jackie Chan around to help produce an A-list pay out. There is a lesser level of expectations here, since it is a sequel, and yet the film still can't find a way to meet them. It dawdles, looking for laughs in all the wrong places, and eventually fizzles during its "action packed" finale. While the premise has promise, nothing is done with it and ultimately we are left with a morose, mechanical entry into that repugnant realm of mainstream comedies. While Fox provides a decent DVD package -- nice 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix -- there is nothing that can save this sophomoric bilge. Even bland bonus features like deleted scenes (unnecessary and nominal), a behind-the-scenes featurette (pure EPK crassness), and a full-length audio commentary by director John Whitesell, producer David T. Friendly, and actor Zachary Levi (who?) make this a less-than-stellar digital presentation.
For a certain sector of the moviegoing public, something like Big Momma's House 2 is review-proof. Demons could come crawling out of your TV screen upon a single viewing and fans will still froth over Lawrence's manic mugging, the juvenile level of laughs, and the overall notion of a guy dressed in drag. Indeed, there is a longstanding tradition for such generic gender-bending. Unfortunately, Martin Lawrence's work in this waste of time is apt to prove that cross-dressing is not comic, but creepy. This was one return visit from an obese object of ridicule that was not wise -- or warranted.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted/Extended Scenes with Optional Audio Commentary
* Full Length Audio Commentary track featuring Director John Whitesell, Droducer David T. Friendly, and Actor Zachary Levi
* "Big Momma's Secrets" Featurette
* Official Site