Big Momma's House Or Time-Worn Shack?

Martin Lawrence, Paul Giamatti, Nia Long, Terence Howard. Directed by Raja Gosnell. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 5.1. 98 minutes. 2000. Fox Home Entertainment. PG-13. $26.98.

All involved in Big Momma's House deserve credit for their game attempt to make this ambitious comedy fly, particularly Martin Lawrence, who had to endure the brunt of the effort by sitting in the make-up chair for hours each day. Unfortunately, while the end result has its amusing moments, it's mostly an uneven take on the timeworn mistaken-identity concept.

Lawrence plays FBI agent Malcolm Turner, who's in pursuit of a ruthless escaped convict. As standard operating procedure, Turner keep tabs on the fugitive's girlfriend (Nia Long), eventually winding up in the Deep South staking out the home of her grandmother, known locally as Big Momma. When Big Momma leaves town, Turner, with the help of his disguise-master partner (Paul Giamatti), impersonates the enormous woman in an attempt to deceive the girlfriend and lure the convict out of hiding. Of course, the disguised Turner immediately falls for the lovely girlfriend, which leads to some of the movie's funnier scenes.

However, Big Momma's House leans too heavily on slapstick and silliness to get much of a recommendation. If you make it through its 98 minutes, it will likely be due to the immense likability of funnyman Lawrence and the transfixing beauty of Long rather than to any sustained humor in the script.

Fortunately, one of the things a good DVD presentation can do is elevate a mediocre film to the status of a keeper. The highlight here is a 20-minute "making-of" documentary. In addition to the standard interviews, it goes into interesting detail about the makeup effects that were vital to the story. We learn that the makeup crew's primary challenge was transforming Lawrence into a believable Big Momma while allowing the actor's comedic talents to come through in subtle ways.

There's also an audio commentary by director Gosnell and producer David Friendly. The pair are fairly low-key, but the talking never ebbs and the recollections flow freely. Other extras include two deleted scenes (one of these is an alternate opening credit sequence), available with or without commentary by Gosnell; a makeup test with Lawrence; a pair of music videos; and trailers, TV spots, and some outtakes that aren't as funny as one might expect with Lawrence around.

The picture and sound of this THX-approved disc are excellent. While the soundtrack seldom engages the surround speakers, the few times it does are effective and might make you duck.

The sum of this disc is greater than its parts. Unfortunately, the biggest part of the DVD—the movie itself—while occasionally fun, ultimately has the staying power of a wicker chair in Big Momma's House.