The first half of Martin Lawrence’s foray into prosthetic calisthenics, Big Momma’s House, travels in nasty, scatological, Martin-sitcom territory: a big fat lady with biblical diarrhea, said big fat lady naked in supercloseup, and a birth scene involving dirty salad tongs and Crisco that ups the ante on Big Daddy‘s pioneering studies in the comic possibilities of child endangerment. (We should prepare ourselves, perhaps, for Big Brother’s Fist and Big Auntie’s Rancid Ham.) But Big Momma’s House ends up waddling its way toward gentler, mistier climes, stopping just shy of Doubtfire country. It doesn’t run out of smelly steam so much as downshift and become a different movie.
Lawrence plays an FBI agent and master of disguises who goes to small-town Georgia to stake out the home of the titular massive, muumuu’d matron (Ella Mitchell) in anticipation of a visit from her granddaughter (hardest-working woman in show business Nia Long), who may or may not be a bank robber’s accomplice. When Big Momma leaves town, Lawrence assumes her identity just in time for Long’s arrival. Cue the increasingly heartwarming set pieces: Lawrence as Big Momma kicks ass at self-defense class; Lawrence as Big Momma helps Long’s son (Jascha Washington) beat some bullies on the basketball court; Lawrence as Lawrence romances Little Momma with a fishing trip and tender attentions paid to her boy. The screenwriters, thankfully, leave out the usual scene where the double-dealer has to be two different people in two places at once, but countless other comic possibilities are left hanging pendulous, Long has little to do but look sweet and quizzical, and the star-executive producer seems bored and distracted under and out of his makeup. Still, Lawrence is enough of a gentleman to let Ella Mitchell, the movie’s biological Momma, completely upstage him in her handful of scenes. She’s an avalanche force of nature, groceries, and good sportsmanship.