Studio: 20th Century Fox
Plot: FBI agent Malcolm Turner and his stepson Trent go undercover at an all-girls performing arts school after Trent witnesses a murder.
Cast: Martin Lawrence, Brandon T. Jackson, Jessica Lucas, Portia Doubleday, Faizon Love.
Bottom Line: ****
By Samantha Ofole-Prince
There’s a big reason to watch this third installment of the huge blockbuster hit "Big Momma," according to director John Whitesell.
“It has dance and music and puts some juice back into the franchise,” says Whitesell, who also helmed "Big Momma’s House 2."
Reuniting Martin Lawrence, producer David T. Friendly and Whitesell, "Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son," sees the return of the plus-size, floral dress wearing grandmother played by Lawrence. This time, he's joined by his step-son, Trent (Brandon T. Jackson), as they go undercover at an all-girls performing arts school after Trent witnesses a murder. Posing as Big Momma and as hefty coed Charmaine, they must find the killer before he finds them.
When the character of Big Momma was introduced to movie audiences in 2000’s "Big Momma’s House," the film became a global box-office sensation. The fun continued with a follow-up, "Big Momma’s House 2" as audiences around the world responded to Martin Lawrence’s bigger-than-life portrayal of a sassy matriarch with a big heart and a bad attitude.
The success of the first two Big Momma films led to this third offering, but Lawrence, Friendly, Whitesell and screenwriter Matthew Fogel wanted the new film to reinvent the franchise, and not merely continue a successful formula. In doing so, they opened the film up to an audience largely untapped by the two prequels.
“Our movies are traditionally very strong with African-American audiences, but you don't do the numbers we have done without also crossing over to other segments,” says producer Friendly. “One thing we were not hitting was teenagers. That wasn’t necessarily our core audience and so by bringing in Brandon and this wonderful young cast, we were hoping to expand the audience a little bit, but at the same time be relevant to the culture today, because there are a lot of music driven things whether its Glee or American Idol.”
With an ensemble of stars including Jessica Lucas, Portia Doubleday and Faizon Love in a role which draws plenty of laughter, "Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son" is set in an all girls’ high school and features several music and dance sequences. There's even an introduction of a fictitious old-school dance, which Lawrence calls 'The Cleveland Shuffle'.
As the film opens, Malcolm (Lawrence) discovers that his stepson Trent has been accepted to Duke University, but is disappointed when he finds out that Trent is more interested in becoming a rapper. It's a conflict that ultimately leads Trent to take a detour into the family business by going undercover (as Charmaine) which ensures a lot of funny generational battles.
"Big Momma resonates with audiences of all ages, no matter where they live, and I think everybody knows a Big Momma,” says Lawrence. “I love playing Big Momma, but it was really the energy of the script and having Brandon as my partner in the story that brought me back.”
For Jackson, who had standout roles in "Tropic Thunder" and "Lottery Ticket," playing a woman proved quite challenging, as the actor had to endure several minutes of make-up to transform into Charmaine.
“I was trying to make her look like my mum when she was pregnant with my little sister and I watched Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire to perfect the role," adds Jackson, who says that his biggest challenge was making sure Trent could “shine through” the formidable prosthetics that transform the character into Charmaine. “It’s like creating a character. That is the dopiest thing about being an actor is creating characters,” adds the actor. “Martin gave me some good advice [when it came to wearing the weighty prosthetics, as Charmaine] ‘Sit down whenever you can, chill out, and have a good time.’ It’s my nature to run around the set and talk to everybody, because I come from a big family and I like to talk to people so the suit made me focus on my performance.
Also freshening up the franchise are new and improved make-ups and prosthetics that halved the time it took Martin Lawrence to become Big Momma.
“One of the secrets of the Big Momma movies is the tremendous amount of prep involved building the prosthetics, having the makeup tested, and doing the camera tests,” says Friendly. “On the first one the makeup took us three hours and the second two hours and now it’s down to an hour and 40 minutes. We had an amazing makeup team lead by Wesley Wofford, who really knows what he is doing. We have a balance in the movie now,” Friendly continues. “There is comedy and there is heart and now there is music and performance so there is a lot more than people think.”