Saturday, March 15, 2014

Big Momma's House


It has been dreadfully hot here at Chateau Maine with temperatures in the high nineties and the low hundreds all week long. It's causing both my hair lacquer and my Max Factor number two foundation to melt. I’ve tried dunking my head in bowls of ice water but that doesn’t seem to help. A doctor friend has suggested liquid nitrogen that the medical supply company is delivering shortly. The heat is leading to delays on my new Annie Leibowitz Talk magazine photo shoot. I’m supposed to have a twelve-page spread, with me in gauzy white draperies doing some incredible acrobatic tricks and athletic tap maneuvers through the cloisters of a local hacienda. The theme is 'Tuscan Reverie' and we've flown in Juan Diego Florez to sing Vesti la giubba as background mood music. I have a number of chorus boys outfitted as different varieties of pasta to complete the tableaux. The young man who's playing Linguine, however, keeps missing his mark and after twenty or thirty attempts to set up the shot, I’m driven to distraction. Not to mention that four hours in the sun and my hair becomes a major fire hazard.

With all the heat, Norman and I decided that we couldn't take in anything too serious at the cinema when we headed out for a matinee. Therefore, we opted against watching homoerotic bonding fishermen drown. We also decided against watching a lot of lovely young people in mutant costumes doing chop-sockey with each other while Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart emote in the background. The only new comedy that opened this week had Bruce Willis and the biggest laughs he usually gets are for his hairpiece. We therefore tiptoed around to the little second run theater where the films are only two dollars to see if we could find something worth laughing at. We ended up opting for a film that's been out there for a while, Big Momma's House with Martin Lawrence.

I wasn't expecting too much, especially when an early scene revolved around an elderly person moving her bowels on camera, but ended up being pleasantly entertained. This is the kind of movie where things have been put together by a team of studio hacks to fit the talents of the star so don't expect great writing or any unexpected plot twists. All the major developments are telegraphed fifteen minutes in advance. This doesn't mean it doesn't have a few uproarious set pieces, a childbirth scene, a church witnessing sequence, and a final party scene straight out of Plautus's The Menaechmi are worth the price of matinee admission.

The slight plot involves the FBI, in the persons of Lawrence, a specialist in undercover disguise operations, and his partner Paul Giamatti, staking out the home of the titular Big Momma, Hattie Mae in small town Georgia. Big Momma, a classic African American matriarch, is kin to the lovely Nia Long, who may be an accomplice in a bank robbery, and who is on the lam from an abusive ex-boyfriend. Big Momma is called out of town suddenly, just before Nia and her son show up so, through a convoluted set of circumstances, our hero has to disguise himself as 'Big Momma' in order to build his case. This leads to all the expected complications of mistaken identities, misinterpreted motives, and general hysteria that are usually found in movies of this kind. It’s sort of like an African-American Mrs. Doubtfire but without most of the schmaltz.

Martin Lawrence is quite charming, both as the male FBI agent and in his undercover guise of the eponymous Big Momma. Paul Giamatti also has some great moments as he gets routinely abused, by pretty much everyone else in the cast, throughout the course of their case assignment. Miss Long is pretty but doesn’t have that much to do. The supporting cast, including a number of veteran African-American character actresses as Hattie Mae’s friends, is a scream, especially when one of the upright church ladies is caught in a not so upright position.

There's a lot of tacked on scenes, strictly there to exploit the sight of Martin Lawrence under pounds of prosthetics, doing a number of very unlady-like things. Some are crass, some are amusing, and some are hysterically funny. A lot of the humor is crude, but that doesn't keep it from being funny and the crudeness is nowhere near the level of the usual gross out humor film.

Black church lady hats. Naked fat woman. Dimwitted security guard. Gratuitous basketball scene. Utterly predictable plot. Gospel Music. Matrons in Wigs. Hidden cash. Traitorous asthma prescription.

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