After last year’s painfully derivative Axel Foley impersonation in Blue Streak, I was fully expecting Big Momma’s House to be yet another attempt by Martin Lawrence to become Eddie Murphy. Fortunately, Big Momma’s House isn’t just The Nutty Professor redux. (Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near that film on the funny-o-meter.)
Malcolm (Lawrence) is an FBI agent with a penchant for getting himself and his partner John (Paul Giamatti) into dangerous situations. When a ruthless bankrobber escapes from prison, Malcolm and John travel to Georgia to capture the criminal and his ex-girlfriend Sherry (Nia Long), whom they believe is an accessory. Disguising himself as Sherry’s long lost grandmother Big Momma -- a fat, sassy, Southerner -- Malcolm gets a little too close to the girl and her young son, falling in love with her and potentially jeopardizing the case.
Big Momma’s House doesn’t gel as a comedy-of-errors and never takes the farce quite far enough. The real Big Momma eventually shows up along with Malcolm in disguise, the villain and bumbling security guard Nolan (Anthony Anderson) at what should be a climax of escalating mistaken identities and misdirections. But instead of playing that card, the film instead opts for a ho-hum fist fight.
Big Momma’s House probably works best as a romantic comedy, although it’s about as formulaic as they come. The movie does elicit genuine laughter throughout, thanks mostly to Paul Giamatti, Anthony Anderson and a few choice doo-doo jokes, but mostly it seems a series of bits strung together by a threadbare plot. Ultimately, Big Momma’s House is the kind of movie I wouldn’t turn off if I was watching cable and I had already seen the episode of The Crocodile Hunter playing opposite it on The Discovery Channel.
However, and I stress this as a 72-point Helvetica Bold however, Nia Long is marvelously captivating. Her approach is so natural, so real, so honest, she makes all the other actors look that much better. She needs to be working a helluva lot more than she is and in bigger movies and better movies than this.