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by: Michael Dequina

Make no mistake--Big Momma's House is all about Martin Lawrence donning large old lady drag. That's what moviegoers will buy their tickets to see, and apparently that's the only reason why the director and writers made this project, for the thin sliver of a plot is just an excuse to get Lawrence in costume and let him do his thing.

That, of course, is not an entirely bad thing. Lawrence is a talented comedian, and he is able to bring more than a few laughs to the proceedings. As FBI agent Malcolm Turner, who spends most of the film buried under makeup and prosthetics as the elderly Big Momma, Lawrence's timing and manic energy juices up obvious gags cooked up by writers Darryl Quarles and Don Rhymer. Since Big Momma is really a young man wearing a fat suit, a lot of the humor derives from seeing what appears to be a heavyset old lady doing un-old-lady-like things. Big Momma tears it up on the basketball court. Big Momma beats up a surly self-defense instructor. Big Momma gets her groove on during a church service. Then there are the fish-out-of-water gags, such as when Big Momma is called on to assist in a childbirth--an area, of course, in which Malcolm has no level of expertise.

Individual episodes such as these are what viewers will remember most about Big Momma's House, and that may very well be enough for the film to become a hit. But this isn't a sketch comedy on the television set; it's a big screen film that is supposed to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and plot gets all but lost as director Raja Gosnell goes from vignette to vignette. For the record, Malcolm's disguise is part of plan to capture a vicious escaped con (a barely used Terrence Howard). His ex-girlfriend Sherry (Howard's The Best Man co-star Nia Long, also wasted) may or may not hold some crucial information, so Malcolm disguises himself as her old friend Big Momma (currently out on vacation), whose home she is about to visit.

The story never makes complete sense, and while it really doesn't matter considering the film's overall intent, it would have helped if there were a strong spine on which to hang all the individual set pieces. But there isn't one, and this House ultimately collapses under the weight of Big Momma and her unfocused schtick.

RATING: ** 1/2 (out of *****)


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