Big Momma’s House

When is a man dressed up as a huge black woman NOT funny? Never! Well, except in “Big Momma’s House,” a film based on the premise that Martin Lawrence is funny merely by being Martin Lawrence, and if you put a floppy prosthetic body and a house dress on him, he’s just that much funnier.

Lawrence plays FBI master-of-disguise Malcolm Turner who, with his easy-going partner John (Paul Giamatti), is sent to spy on a house belonging to Hattie Mae Pierce (Ella Mitchell) — or “Big Momma” as she is known in her sleepy little Southern community. Seems bank robber/murderer Lester (Terrence Howard) has busted out of prison, presumably to seek his former girlfriend Sherry (Nia Long), who everyone believes was his accomplice and who probably has his stolen loot. It’s only a matter of time before Sherry, on the run since Lester’s escape, shows up at the house of her grandma, Big Momma.

Trouble is, Big Momma has gone out of town for a couple weeks. So Malcolm disguises himself as her, using one of those intricately constructed bodysuits and amazing latex faces that can be taken off or put on in a matter of seconds (much like the ones used in “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Mission: Impossible 2”).

He fools Sherry and her little boy, Trent (Jascha Washington), and then just has to accomplish one thing: Get Sherry to confide in him that she was Lester’s cohort, so that he can arrest her.

Unfortunately, this takes an extremely long time. We’re an hour into the film before he even gets CLOSE to getting any information from her. In the meantime, we have to watch Big Momma deliver a neighbor’s baby, school some street punks in a game of basketball, and beat the crap out of an ornery karate instructor. And it’s all hilarious, because it LOOKS like a fat old black woman doing it, when it’s REALLY a guy in a fat-old-black-woman costume! (You don’t think that sounds funny? Well, take the movie’s word for it. It’s funny.)

This is a movie whose logic dictates that Malcolm’s rubber face will start to come off while he’s calmly cooking dinner (and he re-fastens it with duct tape!), but stays fast when he plays a vigorous game of basketball (during which he slam dunks!).

There are a few laughs scattered throughout this movie, which tries so desperately to be funny that you can practically feel its flop-sweat splashing on you. When Malcolm (as Big Momma) has to deliver the baby, implements such as kitchen tongs, oven mitts and a plunger are gathered by the frantic onlookers. Fortunately, the plunger is not used — a moment of restraint in a movie that earlier made us watch the enormous real Big Momma sit on the toilet, complete with accompanying noises. (This was immediately before she stripped naked and got in the shower, a sight which will haunt my dreams and retard my sleep for years to come.)

But overall, the film relies too heavily on the not-terribly-funny premise that Martin Lawrence in a fat-old-woman suit is automatically funny, regardless of what he says or does with it, as long as he gets bug-eyed and says “Damn!” a lot. (Five times, by my count.) It’s “The Nutty Professor” meets “Mrs. Doubtfire,” but without the humor of the former or the heart of the latter.

D (; PG-13, occasional profanity, mild sexual innuendo, fistfight violence.)