Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son is not only teeth-gratingly unfunny, it’s also a film in which the machinery operates in full view of the audience. Honestly, it’s as if no one was even trying to be clever. The plot is little more than a series of implausible and unoriginal contrivances, none of which come off as anything other than a desperate attempt to generate laughs. Consider the opening scene, in which Martin Lawrence, as FBI agent Malcolm Turner, is forced to do the pit maneuver on a mail truck and chases the driver, played by Ken Jeong. No crime has been committed; it’s just that Turner was just anxious to see if his stepson’s letter of acceptance from Duke University had arrived. All that has been achieved here is forcing an inherently humorless scenario into becoming a second-rate slapstick routine.
And it goes on like this for over 100 minutes. The plot, as it were, involves Turner’s teenage stepson, Trent (Brandon T. Jackson), who doesn’t want to go to Duke but rather wants to become the next big rap superstar. He’s given a contract from a record label, but because he’s a minor, a parent or legal guardian must sign it; since his mother is away on a holistic retreat, he has to rely on his stepdad, and his plan is to force him into signing by pestering him while on the job. And so he catches up with Turner at a warehouse, where a Russian mobster named Chirkoff (Tony Curran) already knows the whole thing is a sting operation. Turner’s inside man is shot dead, which Trent witnesses. He also hears the inside man’s last words, which hint at an object containing a flash drive, one that contains incriminating evidence against Chirkoff.
This object, whatever it is, is located in an all-girls performing arts high school. Desperate to find the flash drive, and saddled with a stepson on Chirkoff’s hit list, Turner once again goes undercover in drag as Hattie Mae “Big Momma” Pierce. Dragged along is Trent, who’s also in drag and given the identity of Charmaine, Big Momma’s grandniece. They both infiltrate the school, the former instantaneously hired as a den mother, the latter posing as a student. This time around, the so-called comedy comes from more than clueless characters falling for a very unlikely charade; Trent has to stop himself from slobbering over the girls he’s surrounded by. He must also take part in artistic classes he’s clearly unqualified for, most prominently ballet.
Turner’s snooping eventually leads to an after-hours visit to the campus library, where he encounters the school janitor, Kurtis Kool (Faizon Love), who’s overweight and fancies himself a DJ. When he sees the Big Momma disguise, it’s love at first sight, for he likes his women big boned – and apparently old, since the wrinkles in the latex mask make the Big Momma character look around sixty-five, perhaps seventy. There will come a point when Kurtis coerces Turner into playing a game of Twister. This means we not only have to endure the sight of two fat people contorting themselves in the same physical space, but also the prospect of Turner having to place his hand directly under Kurtis’ backside. A handful, to say the least. This moment was foreshadowed by an earlier scene where Turner, in a full anatomical latex suit, poses nude in a drawing class.
Trent, meanwhile, strikes up a friendship with a dorm girl named Haley (Jessica Lucas), who, like everyone else, is fooled by the Charmaine disguise. Haley is sweet but insecure, and it turns out she’s a great singer, songwriter, and pianist – and when I say great, I’m intentionally glossing over the fact that when she sings, she looks uncannily like an actress lip-synching to a prerecorded track. Oh, but this is still a fortunate turn of events for Trent, not only because he wants to break into the music business, but also because, as a young woman, he’s finally able to find his sensitive side. There is ultimately, of course, no big revelation about the gender gap; it’s just a lame-brained comedy about the many situations one can get into while in disguise.
Let me directly address what I’ve been dancing around this entire review: Lawrence and Jackson are completely unconvincing as women. Their voices are all wrong. Their proportions are all wrong. They look grotesque. And yet we’re supposed to go along with the gag because the other characters are none the wiser? I’m getting increasingly impatient with filmmakers who assume that audiences possess no intelligence. The fact that they work in a crime plot into Big Mommas shows how imperceptive they are, for viewers are unlikely to care one iota about it; two previous films have conditioned them to focus on nothing other than the main characters doing and saying goofy things in a desperate effort to maintain a charade. This is painfully tiresome, and so too are the many inevitable jokes that befall it. There have been many bad comedies, but few have been this dreary and obvious.
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