The father/stepson angle applies a much-needed Heimlich maneuver to a series that was choking, but it's not enough.

James Plath's picture

After I finished watching "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son" with my family, I asked them what they thought.

"It was better than I expected," my wife said, explaining that she thought it would be impossible to watch.

"I didn't like it," my 13-year-old son volunteered. Why, I wondered. "I don't know," he said."

"I kinda did," my nine-year-old daughter said. She even thought we should keep the movie for our collection, rather than giving it away.

As for me, I have to go with my wife on this one. While it's a formulaic comedy with a familiar plot, stereotypical characters, and a premise that's as outdated as Big Momma's dresses, the third installment of the "Big Mommas" franchise was still barely passable as mindless, escapist entertainment. I can't say that I laughed out loud, but I did smile a few times. Inside.

There's an audience for movies like this, but unlike Big Momma, it's growing steadily smaller. "Big Momma's House" (2000) opened on 2802 screens and hauled in $26 million on the first weekend. "Big Momma's House 2" (2006) took in $28 million over the same time periiod, but it required 3261 screens to do it. This third installment played on 2821 screens and grossed only $19 million opening weekend, which, you'd think, would be enough to dissuade filmmakers from producing a fourth film.

I can see why my daughter liked it, though. Unlike the original, which featured Martin Lawrence as a master-of-disguise FBI agent who had to dress and act like a cantankerous southern grandma nicknamed "Big Momma" in order to protect witnesses in a big case, or the sequel, which had Lawrence donning the fat prosthesis again to go undercover as a nanny, "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son" takes place at a women's performing arts college and includes young blood: Brandon T. Jackson ("Tropic Thunder," "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief"). So you've got a "Fame" or "Glee" atmosphere, girls going wild with pajama parties and fashion shows, and a young guy who raps and has big-old doe eyes for one of the girls. If you're a 'tween or teen who's able to watch this PG-13 comedy, that's the selling point. It's half boy-meets-girl and half silly cop stuff. There are more songs than shoot-outs. The father/stepson angle applies a much-needed Heimlich maneuver to a series that was choking, but it's not enough. And the logic is as scarce as suitors for Big Momma.

This outing, Malcolm (Lawrence) is wanting his son to go to Duke as he did, though Trent (Jackson) has other ideas. He's a songwriter and a rapper who thinks his future lies in the music business. He's even gotten a contract--though, because he's a minor, he needs Big Daddy to sign it. That's not going to happen, he's told, and so a bandmate advises Trent to follow his dad to work and get him to sign at a stressful moment. That's how Trent comes to witness a killing, and why Malcolm and Trent have to go undercover to evade the Russian mobsters (Henri Lubatti, Lorenzo Pisoni, Tony Curran) who want to kill Trent. So the third Big Momma feature owes more than a little thanks to "Some Like It Hot."

The thing of it is, Billy Wilder built an airtight comedy, and "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son" has leaks all over the place. None of the subplots seem to be developed enough, and conflicts are too quickly and simplistically resolved. Why set up a whole mean-girl "I run this place" thread, for example, if the prima ballerina (Portia Doubleday) is going to be effortlessly neutralized? Same with the plus-sized night watchman at the college (Faizon Love) who licks his chops every time he sees Big Momma--which, by the way, is twice as disgusting as looking at Lawrence in a full-body fat prosthesis. And the bad guys? There's never really any sense of menace. "Beverly Hills Cop" recently came out on Blu-ray. I hope that director John Whitesell and writer Matthew Fogel pick up a copy and see how possible it is to blend credible tension and action with comedy.

I wish the film itself was as good as the transfer. The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50-gig disc is impeccable, with bright and fully saturated colors, strong black levels, and the kind of detail we've come to expect from 1080p Blu-rays. "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son" is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen.

The audio is a pretty robust English DTS-HD MA 5.1 that kicks into high gear mostly during the musical numbers. Dialogue may be clean and crisp, but the background music seems to work a little too hard to make us love it, and the action scenes aren't nearly as dynamic as we might have hoped. Additional audio options are Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.

The big bonus features in a combo pack like this are the DVD and Digital Copy, but there are also two versions of the film: an unrated extended version and the theatrical version. The commentary track (theatrical version only) with Whitesell, producer David T. Friendly, and actors Jackson, Lucas, and Doubleday offers no real insights-probably because what you see in a film like this is what you get. They're engaging enough and you could tell they had fun doing the movie. But sign me up. If there's a "Big Mommas 4," I hope to be in front of the camera instead of watching the final print. The other bonus features aren't much. In addition to a handful of deleted scenes (would that they had deleted more of them), a gag reel, and two music videos ("Baby You Know," "Lyrical Miracle"), there are just two very short throwaway features: "Song and Dance: Momma Style" and "Bigger Busts Countdown."

Bottom Line:
Good guys vs. bad, father and son, a boy and his unrequited love, a horny guard and the object of his lust, a mean girl and her minions . . . none of the film's narrative components are explored very much. The filmmakers just skip stones across the surface and trust that the audience only cares about the fat suit and premise. "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son" feels like the work of people who don't think viewers are smart and savvy enough to want more.


Film Value