Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:38 - Released 6/2/00

The latest in Martin Lawrence's bid to become Eddie Murphy can be seen gracing silver screens this weekend, as the comic dons foam rubber and makeup for Big Momma's House, a mediocre-at-best comedy by editor turned director Raja Gosnell. Borrowing heavily from The Nutty Professor and Mrs. Doubtfire (not to mention, of course, the grand "mama" of them all, Tootsie), this film serves up heapin' helpin's of fat jokes, sex jokes, and scatological humor, wrapped around a thin plot involving FBI agents trying to nab a bank robber.

The script by Darryl Quarles and Don Rhymer has its cute moments, and Lawrence occasionally rises to the energy level Murphy has shown us in his several prosthetic-and-greasepaint vehicles, but . . . how many times can you put a man in drag and have him fall in love with a beautiful young woman? We all groaned when we saw Dustin Hoffman try to kiss Jessica Lange while wearing a wig and fake boobs. We laughed when Robin Williams, dressed as a sweet old grandmother, was found standing up at the toilet by his babysit-ees. And we howled when Eddie Murphy played all eight members of a family making crude jokes at the dinner table. But really, is there any new material here? Lawrence (who, by the way, co-produced this film) isn't doing anything that hasn't been done before, and he's certainly not doing it any better.

Lawrence is Malcolm, an FBI agent and disguise specialist, who, along with his partner John (Paul Giamatti), is assigned to a case in a small town in Georgia. After a bank robbery that resulted in two murders, the killer (Terrence Howard) escaped from prison, leaving his girlfriend and child behind. Although Sherry (Nia Long) and her son Trent (Jascha Washington) seem innocent, Malcolm believes she is going to meet the killer later and split the dough. When he discovers that Sherry plans to visit her long-lost, fat grandmother, and that the real grandmother has gone away for a few weeks, Malcolm decides to go undercover as "Big Momma" while John hides out in an abandoned house across the street recording and videotaping everything. The trouble is, while Sherry and Trent seem to fall for the trick, Malcolm discovers a fondness for them that could undermine the case.

While Lawrence and Giamatti perform tons of schtick and man-in-drag material recycled from the previously mentioned movies, it is Long who makes this film watchable. Her chemistry with Lawrence (when he's playing Malcolm as a man) is definitely warm, and, since she's playing the straight-man character, her dramatic proficiency is able to shine through all the slop. While "Big Momma" is bouncing her big butt through church revivals, martial arts classes, and basketball games (not to mention fending off the advances of a dirty old man and the prying eyes of a nosy neighbor), Long's Sherry is consistent and believable throughout, showing the conflict that plagues her conscience. Of course, it doesn't hurt that she looks fabulous.

There are many places one can go to get what is offered by Big Momma's House; most are on the discount rack at your local video store. But Long's performance is worth seeing, and I suppose even Martin's eye-rolling and caterwauling has its occasional charm. ***

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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