Saturday, February 19, 2011

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Martin Lawrence Back in Drag for Cross-Dressing Crime Comedy

It’s been said that there comes a critical moment in every African-American comedian’s career when he's asked to put on a dress. Among those who’ve succumbed to that subtle pressure over the years are Flip Wilson (TV’s Geraldine), Jaime Foxx (TV’s Wanda), Marlon and Shawn Wayans (White Chicks), Eddie Murphy (Norbit and The Nutty Professor 1 & 2), Tyler Perry (Madea), and of course, Martin Lawrence (The Big Momma trilogy).
Paradoxically, this controversial sub-genre has frequently been the subject of debate, with pundits disagreeing on whether or not the films are politically-incorrect. On the one hand, you hear blowback from naysayers complaining about the stereotypical portrayal of black women as overweight and obnoxious. On the other, the proponents point out the fact that many of these mistaken identity adventures feature black-on-black romance, a rarity in Hollywood, even if between a chocolate chubby chaser and a terrified transvestite trying to fend off advances while keeping up appearances.
In this critic’s opinion, the renaissance of rubber suit romps can be easily explained by the fact that kids tend to find fat female impersonators funny. It’s as simple as that. After all, what’s funnier to a child than a black drag queen?
How about two black drag queens? That ostensibly means double the laughs lay in wait for the target audience with Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, a gender-bending crime comedy co-starring Martin Lawrence and Brandon T. Jackson.
At the point of departure we’re reacquainted with FBI Agent Malcolm Turner (Lawrence) and his stepson, Trent (Jackson), an aspiring rapper with raging hormones and no interest in attending college. However, Turner will hear none of it, since the academically-accomplished 17 year-old has already been admitted to Duke University.
But before the college question can be resolved, Trent witnesses the shooting of a police informant (Max Casella) at the hands of Chirkoff (Tony Curran), a vicious Russian crime boss who’s searching for an incriminating flash drive. As the mortally-wounded stool pigeon passes away, he hints that the key piece of evidence is hidden somewhere at a nearby girls’ boarding school.
Naturally, Turner and Trent decide to don skirts to retrieve Exhibit A by infiltrating the place undercover. So, “Big Momma” takes a job as a housemother there while “Charmaine” matriculates as a transfer student.
From this point forward, the film degenerates into recycled fare strictly for youngsters unfamiliar with any memorable moments from classic films or television shows. For it takes a lot of nerve to steal Redd Foxx’s signature line “I’m coming to join you, Elizabeth!” from Sanford & Son without even bothering to change the name Elizabeth. Equally shameless is an imitation of Jennifer Beal’s audition in Flashdance right down to the head shaking and foot stomping to the driving tune “Maniac.”
Then there’s Faizon Love’s channeling Joe E. Lewis’ crush on Jack Lemmon from Some Like It Hot as an ardent admirer of Big Momma. I suppose there must be a scriptwriting recession, too. Luckily, all these purloined plot points will be lost on the tykes too busy howling at the flabalanche of pratfalls and wardrobe malfunctions to worry about the lack of originality.
Just enough goofy slapstick to enthrall the under ten demographic.

Good (2 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexual humor and brief violence.
Running time: 107 Minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox

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