Big Momma's House

USA/Germany 2000

Reviewed by Ken Hollings


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

USA, the present. Violent bank robber Lester breaks out of jail to look for his former girlfriend Sherry, who is suspected of being his accomplice in a $2 million bank robbery. FBI agent Malcolm Turner and his partner keep Sherry's grandmother's house in a small southern town under surveillance, suspecting she might flee there and lead them to the missing money.

When the grandmother, known as Big Momma, is unexpectedly called away, Turner decides to use his talent for disguise to impersonate the old woman. Sherry turns up with her young son; having been out of touch with Momma for some years, she is taken in by Turner's disguise. He eventually wins her confidence and finds out that she was not involved in the theft and wants nothing more to do with Lester. Lester shows up at a surprise party thrown in Momma's honour. The real Momma appears too. Exposed as an FBI agent, Turner arrests Lester. Having fallen in love with Sherry, Turner wins her forgiveness for his deception.


Considering past revelations of one-time FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's secret passion for cross-dressing and his hounding of civil-rights campaigner Martin Luther King, the prospect of a black male FBI agent, played by Martin Lawrence, dragging himself up as a southern momma has distinct comic, if not satiric potential. Clogged up by tired routines and befuddled scripting, Big Momma's House comes across instead as an updated version of the 1890s cross-dressing farce Charley's Aunt rewritten by comedian and blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore, but lacking the subtle sophistication of either. There is little in Martin Lawrence's simpering parody of Momma's behaviour to suggest that he, or the character he's playing, has given any thought to his new identity. Other character details are similarly sketchy: miss a fleeting reference to Armani and you might never know that FBI agent Turner is supposed to be a hip urbanite unused to living in the Deep South. The evocation of southern culture is just as flat: a gospel choir in the local church, for instance, signal their fervour by singing 'Oh Happy Day' not just once but twice.

A comedy that revolves around deception must concern itself with the characters involved, their respective blind spots and prejudices if it is to be plausibly entertaining. But here we learn next to nothing about them and so care even less. The female roles are particularly undeveloped: Sherry, Momma's granddaughter, is never allowed to be more than a bundle of curves for Turner to roll his eyes at; a scene that features a woman's pain during labour, meanwhile, is played for the broadest of laughs. The attentions of the randy old stud pursuing Turner in the mistaken belief that he's a woman are quickly forgotten about once the FBI agent reveals his true identity. In a blithe endorsement of Joe E. Brown's observation in Some Like It Hot (1959) that "nobody's perfect", Big Momma's House doesn't trouble itself with Turner's erstwhile admirer's response to the discovery that he's allowed himself to become aroused by a man in drag.

Ella Mitchell, however, brings a wild, dirty energy to her portrayal of the 'real' Big Momma. Bad-tempered, with a bludgeoning tongue and a sulphurous bowel disorder, she dominates the small community of old ladies grouped around her. It's hard to figure out why the film isn't centred on Momma and her friends rather than Lawrence's tiresome mugging. But the pets, peeves and gossiping of these women are unfortunately never allowed to intrude on Lawrence's one-joke performance; you're left wondering what a director like John Waters, who exploited the titanic comic talents of Jean Hill in Desperate Living and Polyester with real verve, would have made of such material.


Raja Gosnell
David T. Friendly
Michael Green
Darryl Quarles
Don Rhymer
Darryl Quarles
Director of Photography
Michael D. O'Shea
Bruce Green
Kent Beyda
Production Designer
Craig Stearns
Richard Gibbs
© Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Monarchy Enterprises B.V. and Regency Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Production Companies
Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises present a David T. Friendly/Runteldat Entertainment production
In association with Taurus Film
Executive Producers
Martin Lawrence
Jeffrey Kwatinetz
Rodney Liber
Arnon Milchan
Peaches Davis
David W. Higgins
Aaron Ray
Production Co-ordinators
Jacqueline Popelka
Taylor Favale
Larry Fioritto
Unit Production Manager
Steven Brown
Location Manager
Richard Davis Jr
2nd Unit Director
Rodney Liber
Assistant Directors
Richard Graves
Susan Hellmann
Heidi G. McGowan
2nd Unit:
Albert Cho
Hans Berggren
Foongy Lee
Script Supervisors
Benita Brazier
2nd Unit:
Haley McLane
Nancy Klopper
Rita Vanderwaal
2nd Unit Director of Photography
Donald M. McCuaig
Underwater Camera
Mike Thomas
Mike Ferris
Camera Operators
Steven H. Smith
Bob Gorelick
2nd Unit:
Pat McGinnis
Visual Effects
Rich Thorne
Sharon Holly
Visual Effects
CIS Hollywood
Digital FilmWorks Inc
Pacific Title Digital
Pixel Magic
Special Effects Foremen
Virgil Sanchez
Doyle Smiley
Wes Mattox
Art Director
Randy Moore
Set Designers
Mariko Braswell
Charisse Cardenas
Set Decorator
Ellen Totleben
Storyboard Artist
Darryl Henley
Costume Designer
Francine Jamison-Tanchuck
Costume Supervisor
Frank Perry Rose
Lead Artist:
Beverly Jo Pryor
Joseph Michael Regina
Special Make-up Effects
Greg Cannom
Big Momma's Make-up
Captive Audience
Prosthetic Make-up Artists:
Wesley Wofford
Brian Sipe
Margaret Prentice
Make-up Producer:
Keith Vanderlaan
Production Supervisor:
Jennifer Teves
Specialty Costume Supervisor:
Linda Benavente-Notaro
Miles Teves
Glen Hanz
Model Shop Supervisor:
Arthur Pimental
Production Co-ordinator:
Jill Fischer
Effects Technicians:
Sam Sainz
Todd Tucker
Christopher Gallagher
Connie Angland
John Kim
Operations Manager:
Harvey K. Lowry
Silicone Technicians:
Mark Nieman
Richard Starke
Michael Peterson
Hair Technician:
Mark Boley
Lead Stylist:
Erma Kent
Key Stylist:
Kimberly Kimble
Music Supervisor
Spring Aspers
"Big Momma's Theme" - Da Brat & Vita featuring Destiny's Child; "I've Got to Have It" - JD & Nas featuring Monica; "You Can Always Go" - Jagged Edge and Blaque; "That's What I'm Looking For (Mr. Dupri remix)" - Da Brat and Jermaine Dupri featuring Missy Elliott; "Bounce with Me" - Lil Bow Wow & XSCAPE; "I Want to Kiss You" - Dirty, contains a portion of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" - Cindy Lauper; "I Like Dem" - Lil Jon & The Eastside Boys; "What I'm Gonna Do to You" - Kandi; "Love's Not Love" - Marc Nelson; "Ooh Big Momma" - Lil Jon and The EastSide Boyz; "Get Up" - Jessica; "Security" - Otis Redding; "Oh Happy Day", "Everytime I Feel the Spirit" - The Black Ally Choir; "Big Mama (Go Big Girl)" - Black Dave; "Cake Walk into Town" - Taj Mahal; "Woo Hoo" - Rock-A-Teens; "Yes We Can" - The Pointer Sisters; "Nut Rocker" - B Bumble & The Stingers; "Can't Get Enough of Your Love Babe" by Barry White; "Wang Dang Doodle" - KoKo Taylor
Sound Mixer
Thomas Causey
Supervising Sound Editors
Bob Grieve
Yann Delpuech
Basketball Consultant
Dick Baker
FBI Consultant
Jeffrey Beatty
Stunt Co-ordinator
Ernie Orsatti
Marine Co-ordinator
C. Ransom Walrod
Birds and Animals Unlimited
Martin Lawrence
Malcolm Turner
Nia Long
Paul Giamatti
Jascha Washington
Terrence Howard
Anthony Anderson
Ella Mitchell
Big Momma Pierce
Carl Wright
Phyllis Applegate
Starletta Dupois
Miss Patterson
Jessie Mae Holmes
Miss Other Patterson
Nicole Prescott
Octavia L. Spencer
Tichina Arnold
Cedric "The Entertainer"
Philip Tan
Edwin Hodge
Aldis Hodge
basketball teens
Brian Palermo
Brian Paul Stuart
prison doctor
Sarah Zinsser
Sean Lampkin
cab driver
Tony McEwing
Sean Thibodeau
Ramsey Luke
FBI agent
Rosi Rosi
Minnie O. Burton
Rita (Peggy) Fagan-Lewis
Nolan's volunteers
John Eddins
police officer
Louis Archie Shackles
choir 1
Tameka Holmes
choir 2
Ellis Hall
20th Century Fox (UK)
8,855 feet
98 minutes 23 seconds
Dolby Digital
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011