It’s damn near impossible to grasp the humor-repellant acting appeal of Big Momma’s Martin Lawrence; here, after all, is an actor whose career has yielded exactly one motion picture that was worth more than the contents of a day-old Nicole Ritchie barf bag, 1995’s Bad Boys, a movie that actually owed most of its infection charm to the charismatic Will Smith. And yet, like an annual bowel movement, the “elitist” powers-that-be in Hollywood deem it necessary to shit another Martin Lawrence offering onto 3,000 screens, leaving it to stink up suburban multiplexes for a week or two before the movie-going public lights a match up in the mother fucker and flushes it down the box office charts, promising themselves not to be snookered into yet another black-man-out-of-water premise.
I’ll confess to being a minor fan of Lawrence’s stand-up films, You So Crazy and, more recently, 2002’s Runteldat. While (early) Eddie Murphy inherited Richard Pryor’s raw, hedonistic comedic talents and Chris Rock became heir to his acerbic, political humor, it was Martin Lawrence who seems to have mastered Pryor’s confessional abilities, exploiting all the comedy inherent in his chaotic and self-destructive life. Compare, for instance, Pryor’s freebasing downward spiral in 1982’s Sunset Strip, which climaxed with him setting himself on fire, to Lawrence’s account of his own problems with cocaine, an experience that ultimately led to his arrest for gun possession and his hospitalization for “exhaustion,” a euphemism, he explains, for “I was high as a mother fucker.”
I suppose that, given Pryor’s own lack of success in Hollywood (Superman III, anyone?), it’s not all that surprising that the three funniest stand-up comedians of the last 20 years would also be responsible for some of the worst films to come out of the same time span (Pootie Tang, Head of State, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Holy Man, Vampire in Brooklyn, Blue Streak, and the double-whammy, Life). Somehow, though, we can collectively forgive Rock - because he tends to be the only funny thing in otherwise terrible films - and Murphy, because for every Dr. Dolittle sequel he inflicts upon us, we can still fondly reflect upon 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop. But, c’mon: Martin Lawrence wasn’t that funny to begin with. Excusing a decade-long string of flops (Black Knight(!)) because Runteldat was kinda funny is a bit like forgiving your wife for fucking your brother because she put out on your wedding night. There is a certain pain threshold we simply can’t be expected to withstand, and both the original Big Momma’s House and its sequel exist way beyond that realm.
And believe you me, I tried to get out of attending Big Momma’s House II, going so far as attempting to inflict it upon The TV Whore, whose memories of the original still scar him today. If I hadn’t already written an abstinence review for Rebound, I’d probably use that get-out-of-jail-free card for Big Momma’s House II, like a colleague over at Slant Magazine so obviously seemed to do. But, the allure of Martin Lawrence in a fat suit running down a beach, ala Bo Derek in 10, beckoned to me like the voice of Himeropa, calling me to my inevitable fate.
And so it goes: Big Momma (Martin Lawrence), aka FBI Agent Malcolm Turner, is once again called upon to go undercover as the African-American Mrs. Doubtfire to put the beat down on a suspicious computer-worm creator (“Desperate Housewives,” Mark Moses), his neurotic wife (Emily Proctor), and their uncared for children. Only this time, Turner/Momma is married to Nia Long’s character from the first film, and she’s expecting a Little Momma any day now. You see: A premise rife with lame comedic possibilities, all of which Big Momma mines more diligently than a four-year-old rooting for an undiscovered nose goblin; and like that toddler, Lawrence has no qualms with giving it a good stare down before popping the snot-flavored giblets of comedy into his mouth and swallowing it to the immense displeasure of his audience. Lookit: There is Big Momma running on the beach; Big Momma at the sauna; Big Momma doing the “Milkshake”; And even, Big Momma doing gymnastics. The only thing missing, of course, is Big Momma in a nasty sex-scene with Big Poppa!
Under the helm of the John Whitesell, who knows a little something about tired septuagenarian comedy from his work on Calendar Girls, Big Momma’s House II unwinds itself lethargically, meandering its way toward an unenthusiastic family-film feel-good vibe that has all the indolent energy of a Nick Lachey melody. And, once again, Lawrence sells out his own manic, chaotic brand of humor for restrained, family-friendly mushiness. I suppose, for those of you who like to see talent go to waste, at least Big Momma’s House II features the lovely Nia Long in yet another thankless role; for God’s sake, someone needs to give Renee Zellwegger and Nicole Kidman a rest, and find Ms. Long and Regina King a decent movie to do together.
Until then, however, let’s just hope that Martin Lawrence starts chasing the dragon again, so at least Big Momma’s House III will provide us with something resembling humor.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
Film Reviews | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()