As any writer will tell you, even the proper ones who write for posh newspapers and magazines, there’s nothing more terrifying than the dreaded block. That sinking feeling you get when you’re hypnotised by a flashing cursor, and your brain refuses to impart any useful information. Your synapses aren’t firing. There’s no inspiration. No one’s home.
Such is my dilemma with Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son. Having sat through all 107 minutes of Martin Lawrence’s latest comedy outing, I’m lost for words.
I went back and consulted the notes I scrawled, in a trance-like state, during the screening, but they make no sense. Most of the sentences look more like ancient runes, or like skulls, like a forgotten language, or the faces of long-dead ancestors, perhaps. There are isolated pages where you can almost pick out words: “Please, no”, or maybe “Make it stop,” or even, “Mother!” but it’s hard to be sure what they say exactly.
Sitting in my plush chair as Big Mommas unfolded on the screen, I became eerily aware of the darkness of the room, the eeriness of the silence. The muffled sighs of three or four dozen journalists all shuffling awkwardly. The faint scritch scritch of fingernails on beards and stubble. The subtle creaking of backbones.
Watching Big Mommas, then, was a weird, shamanic experience, like being sealed in a sensory deprivation tank. After the first hour, the events on the screen disintegrated into weird shapes, its sounds ran into one another like a new kind of languid, frightening jazz.
Big Mommas is one of those films whose entire plot can be understood by simply watching its trailer. Lawrence once again dons his padded lady suit as an FBI agent posing as a middle-aged, heavyweight matriarch, only this time he’s dragged along his rapping teenage nephew, Trent (Brandon T. Jackson, who’s 26), presumably to entice a younger audience into watching the film.
Its setting of a girls’ performing arts school also appears to have been chosen in an effort to court the Glee/High School Musical demographic, and the film’s producers have thrown in a few toe-curling song and dance numbers just to make the connection obvious.
What we have, then, isn’t so much a storyline as a poorly constructed setup for a series of visual gags. Why would a father and son dress as women and hide out in a girls’ school? Because an informant hid some potentially incriminating evidence in the library.
Thereafter, Big Mommas‘ leads totter around in their lady gear, falling over and fending off the unwanted attention of men, or in Trent’s case, trying to cover up his attraction to his fellow students, in particular Haley (Jessica Lucas), who specialises in writing sappy love songs.
At no point in any of Big Mommas‘ 107 minutes did anyone laugh. Not once. It’s not a bad film, in the sense that, say, Devil or The Last Airbender or Skyline were bad, in that entertaining way this site adores. Martin Lawrence rolls his eyes, crashes through tables and flaps his arms as Big Momma, and Brandon T. Jackson does likewise as his bigger boned alter ego, Charmaine, but to absolutely no effect. It’s like watching a barn door opening and then crashing shut again in a strong breeze, forever.
Villains shuffle on and off stage, even engaging in a laughably inept shootout at one point, but not even Tony Curran, who’s been great in numerous things (not least as Vincent van Gogh in Doctor Who) can inject an air of menace into the proceedings. At one point, he mumbles an excuse, wanders away, then comes back again, looking faintly embarrassed.
I suspect that Lawrence, Jackson, director John Whitesell and everyone involved were intending to make a knock-about comedy, a piece of light-hearted entertainment to warm the souls of the huddled masses. It’s not an exaggeration to say they’ve fallen short of this goal.
But what they have created, almost certainly by accident, is a piece of neo-Dadaist art, a kind of anti-comedy that swirls in front of you like a black hole, sucking in any semblance of entertainment in its vicinity. All you can do is stare, stupefied, into the cinematic void.
Those with a peculiar fetish for watching grown men in fat suits tripping over themselves may wring a drop or two of amusement from Big Mommas. Anyone else should approach with caution.
When you stare into the void, the void stares back into you.
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