(by Dustin Putman
In the ongoing roster of cross-dressing comedies, 2000's "Big Momma's House" was no "Some Like It Hot," "Tootsie," or even "Mrs. Doubtfire," but it sufficed as a pleasant enough—and, on occasion, very funny—slice of frothy entertainment. The less said about 2006's desperately unamusing "Big Momma's House 2," the better. Following that distaff turkey, it's hard to imagine anyone would have been clamoring for a second sequel, but here we are, five years later, with "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son." For a film that can't even follow the series' naming convention, how much hope could there conceivably be for a successful final product? In setting the story this time in an all-girls' school, returning director John Whitesell (2006's "Deck the Halls") and sluggish first-time screenwriter Matthew Fogel follow the lead of 2002's underappreciated, frequently uproarious "Sorority Boys"—certain scenes are downright rip-offs—but forget to bring anything clever to the table. They barely seem to be trying at all. Article continues below
Atlanta-based FBI agent Malcolm Turner (Martin Lawrence) prides himself on being an ace at his profession, but the first time we meet him he is abusing his power and physically assaulting a mailman (Ken Jeong) just so he can see if 17-year-old stepson Trent (Brandon T. Jackson, taking over for the predecessors' Jascha Washington) has received an acceptance letter from Duke University. Trent has other ideas, however, adamant that he wants to forego college so he can work on his burgeoning rap career. When Trent witnesses a murder carried out by Eastern European mobster Chirkoff (Tony Curran), his safety is put at immediate risk. Knowing that the flash drive Chirkoff wants is hidden somewhere on the campus of Georgia Girls' School for the Arts, Malcolm and Trent go undercover as portly new housemother Hattie Mae Pierce and her great niece Charmaine. With Malcolm (as Big Momma) having to stave off the advances of handyman Kurtis Kool (Faizon Love), Trent (as Charmaine) falling for sweet classmate Haley (Jessica Lucas), the flash drive lurking in a recently stolen music box, and the dangerous Chirkoff quickly narrowing down his search, father and son have their work cut out for them.
"Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son" is deeply, deeply unfunny, and the driving plot is so dull and unoriginal—a flash drive? Really?—that it verges on contemptible. The logic behind an elderly stranger and her teenage niece waltzing into a performing arts school and instantly being taken in as staff and student without even an identification check is nonexistent, but that goes with the territory. Even more nonsensical are the logistics of the complex make-up and prosthetics job Malcolm and Trent must have to go through to transform into their alter egos. When Big Momma is coaxed into posing nude for a fine arts class, the students don't even bat an eyelash. Has Malcolm committed to his feminine role so wholly that he's actually made himself a vagina? If the picture were doing its job correctly, maybe the viewer would just go with it and not ask questions. Alas, because there's so little to stay interested in as the running time flirts just under the two-hour mark, questions are all that one has to keep marginally diverted.
Again and again, stabs at jokes and physical humor fall to the ground with a crashing thud because they've either not been thought out, lack a punchline, or are stifled by inadequate editing that doesn't seem to understand the fundamentals of precise comic timing. One scene where Charmaine falls off a stage while dancing and lands on Big Momma concludes with Hattie saying while in pain, "Now I know why they call it 'The Nutcracker'!" Had Charmaine and her ballet class been practicing to the sounds of Tchaikovsky, this gag at least would have made sense. Instead, they're dancing to Michael Sembello's "Maniac," rendering the entire scene needlessly confusing. Other would-be humorous set-pieces, like Big Momma playing a game of Twister with Kurtis or Charmaine ending up in a changing room with Haley, go nowhere fast, reminding of really bad "Saturday Night Live" sketches.
Perhaps Martin Lawrence (2010's "Death at a Funeral") keeps returning to this long since dried well because his guise as Big Momma has a certain charm that the actor out of drag does not. Then again, maybe it's the only role he's getting offered these days. Whatever the case may be, Lawrence is primed and ready to deliver comedic material that never comes to him. Without it, he's an amazingly threadbare performer merely going through the paces. Brandon T. Jackson (2010's "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief") fares better as Trent/Charmaine, but is nonetheless way too old to believably play a character who is still in high school. The movie's only passably treated subplot is his friendship with Haley as Charmaine and his romance to her as Trent. It studiously follows every cliché imaginable for a screen coupling where one party is deceiving the other, but Jackson and Jessica Lucas (2008's "Cloverfield") have nice chemistry and there's an effectively low-key scene where they work on a duet together.
An eye-catcher in 2010's otherwise bland "Youth in Revolt," Portia Doubleday is given little to do as stuck-up prima ballerina Jasmine, while newcomer Michelle Ang shows a quirky promise not met halfway by the script as aspiring actress Mia. It's worth noting that Martin Lawrence's love interest from the previous pictures, played by an MIA Nia Long, is conveniently dealt with by having the character working overseas. As for the baby her character was pregnant with in "Big Momma's House 2?" Apparently all involved forgot there was one. Either that, or Malcolm is simply an astoundingly negligent dad.
"Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son" is interminable and lazy in the extreme, a dirge of inspiration. It's also, it must be admitted, decidedly innocuous and pretty much harmless. Audiences who opt to see it will be given nothing to care about, little to laugh at, and even less to think about. As characters, Hattie Mae Pierce and Charmaine aren't bad creations, but the useless script they have found themselves in offers no favors. Ultimately, this series ran out of steam by the end of the very first film, and what has come after has edged on embarrassing. It would only be respectful to hang up Big Momma's oversized girdle once and for all.