Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son
Directed by John Whitesell. Starring Martin Lawrence, Brandon T. Jackson, Jessica Lucas, Portia Doubleday, Tony Curran, Ana Ortiz, Ken Jeong. (2011, PG-13, 107 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 25, 2011
When it comes to the Big Momma films, "What you see is what you get," as Flip Wilson's drag alter-ego Geraldine often pointed out. Outfitting the male of the species in ladies' finery has always been (and will always be) good for a laugh. As a rule, the more confident in his masculinity the actor, the more likely the conceit won't wear thin too quickly. Wilson, one of the best African-American comics to emerge from the turbulent Vietnam and post-civil rights years, hosted his own cross-culturally successful variety show on NBC from 1970 to 1974. As Geraldine, he famously out-spieled Muhammad Ali and spoke to the racially charged temper of the times with a sass and pluck that also never spoke down to women of any race. It's a challenge to say the same of Martin Lawrence, who returns for a third time as FBI agent Malcolm Turner. Forced by unlikely circumstances (again) to assume the floral-print identity of the wisecracking Big Momma, the agent this time also sartorially feminizes his errant stepson Trent (Jackson), dubbing him Charmaine and passing him off as Momma's grandniece. On the run from Russian mobster types, Malcolm and Trent hide out at an all-girls performing arts school while simultaneously searching for an incriminating flash drive that serves as the story’s MacGuffin. Hilarity ensues, but only if your idea of comic genius is, you know, Lawrence in a fat suit. Lawrence plays his Momma bit in the brash Southern matriarch vein, but any similarities between this series and Tyler Perry's Madea outings is purely coincidental. I'm no fan of Perry's blunt-force morality comedies, but at least his pseudo-sainted materfamilias is a real character. Lawrence's Momma is just pure schtick, all flustered mugging and precious little comic substance. And unlike Wilson's Geraldine, Lawrence's Momma does modern mommas no favors: She's hugely obese and crude. The comic, his career now apparently in total free fall, tackles the (dual) role(s) so broadly (no pun intended) that it's just plain annoying – doubly so when you consider that the entire plot (no thanks to scribe Matthew Vogel) is just a cheap rip on Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot.