Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son

20th Century Fox

Rated PG-13 for sexual humor and brief violence.

Martin Lawrence Back in Drag for Cross-Dressing Crime Comedy

It’s been said that there comes a critical moment in every African-American comedian’s career when he’s asked to put on a dress. Among those who’ve succumbed to that subtle pressure over the years are Flip Wilson (TV’s Geraldine), Jaime Foxx (TV’s Wanda), Marlon and Shawn Wayans (White Chicks), Eddie Murphy (Norbit and The Nutty Professor 1 & 2), Tyler Perry (Madea), and of course, Martin Lawrence (The Big Momma trilogy).

Paradoxically, this controversial sub-genre has frequently been the subject of debate, with pundits disagreeing on whether or not the films are politically incorrect. On the one hand, you hear blowback from naysayers complaining about the stereotypical portrayal of black women as overweight and obnoxious. On the other, the proponents point out the fact that many of these mistaken identity adventures feature black-on-black romance, a rarity in Hollywood, even if between a chocolate chubby chaser and a terrified transvestite trying to fend off advances while keeping up appearances.

In this critic’s opinion, the renaissance of rubber suit romps can be easily explained by the fact that kids tend to find fat female impersonators funny. It’s as simple as that. After all, what’s funnier to a child than a black drag queen?

How about two black drag queens? That ostensibly means double the laughs lay in wait for the target audience with Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, a gender-bending crime comedy co-starring Martin Lawrence and Brandon T. Jackson.

At the point of departure we’re reacquainted with FBI Agent Malcolm Turner (Lawrence) and his stepson, Trent (Jackson), an aspiring rapper with raging hormones and no interest in attending college. However, Turner will hear none of it, since the academically accomplished 17-year-old has already been admitted to Duke University.

But before the college question can be resolved, Trent witnesses the shooting of a police informant (Max Casella) at the hands of Chirkoff (Tony Curran), a vicious Russian crime boss who’s searching for an incriminating flash drive. As the mortally wounded stool pigeon passes away, he hints that the key piece of evidence is hidden somewhere at a nearby girls’ boarding school.

Naturally, Turner and Trent decide to don skirts to retrieve Exhibit A by infiltrating the place undercover. So, “Big Momma” takes a job as a housemother there while “Charmaine” matriculates as a transfer student.

From this point forward, the film degenerates into recycled fare strictly for youngsters unfamiliar with any memorable moments from classic films or television shows. For it takes a lot of nerve to steal Redd Foxx’s signature line “I’m coming to join you, Elizabeth!” from Sanford & Son without even bothering to change the name Elizabeth. Equally shameless is an imitation of Jennifer Beal’s audition in Flashdance right down to the head shaking and foot stomping to the driving tune “Maniac.”

Then there’s Faizon Love’s channeling Joe E. Lewis’ crush on Jack Lemmon from Some Like It Hot as an ardent admirer of Big Momma. I suppose there must be a scriptwriting recession, too. Luckily, all these purloined plot points will be lost on the tykes too busy howling at the flabalanche of pratfalls and wardrobe malfunctions to worry about the lack of originality.

Just enough goofy slapstick to enthrall the under 10 demographic.

Good (2 stars).

Running time: 107 Minutes

Now & Later

20th Century Fox

Unrated

Politics Make Strange Bedfellows in Sexplicit Agitprop Adventure

Bill (James Wortham) was making a decent enough salary crippling Third World economies as an international banker to be able to afford a great house in L.A. But when greed got the better of him, he ended up accused of embezzlement.

He subsequently became so despondent and suicidal about the prospect of spending eight years behind bars that, rather than face the music, he decided to jump bail without even telling his wife (Marcellina Walker). As a fugitive from justice with little more than the clothes on his back, he sought to keep under the radar by fleeing to the barrio, a place where no one would think to look for him.

There, on the proverbial other side of the tracks, he hatches a plan to escape to Honduras. But while awaiting the arrival of his getaway driver (Luis Fernandez-Gil), he’s directed to hide out at the apartment of Angela (Shari Solanis), a gorgeous nurse from Nicaragua.

The socially conscious illegal immigrant has bones to pick with Bill about the role he might have played in the oppression of poor folks in Latin America. Still, as an advocate of free love, she’s also more than willing to overlook his previous profession, and proceeds to seduce him on the spot.

With nothing left to lose, Bill is happy to indulge, and the two shed their clothes and start cavorting with abandon like a couple of dogs in heat. Not content with just conventional sex, adventurous Angela ups the ante by asking him to indulge her more kinky fantasies. When he hesitates, she goads him by saying, “You Americans are such a bunch of frustrated hypocrites.”

It’s difficult to discern whether the jaw-dropping Now & Later is designed as politically progressive agit-propaganda or merely as a thinly veiled pretext for softcore porn, since it serves up generous helpings of film fare, which border on both. Regardless, it’s compelling enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen for the duration, given the unbridled passion of a mismatched pair you’d never expect to see in the same zip code, let alone sharing a bed.

To top it all off, the plot thickens when Angela’s bisexual boyfriend, Diego (Adrian Quinonez), arrives home from the road unexpectedly. Will tension or a triangle flow from this combustible scenario? It’s anybody’s guess, given this unlikely trio.

The most sexplicit romp you’ll encounter in theaters this year, guaranteed.

Very Good (3 stars).

Running time: 99 Minutes

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun

For movies opening February 25, 2011

BIG BUDGET FILMS

Drive Angry 3-D (R for nudity, grisly images, graphic sexuality, gory violence and pervasive profanity). Nicolas Cage stars in this supernatural, redemption thriller about a revenge-minded fugitive from Hell, intent on rescuing his infant granddaughter from the gang of goons who murdered his daughter. Cast includes Amber Heard, William Fitchner and David Morse.

The Grace Card (PG-13 for violence and mature themes). Faith-based morality play set in Memphis, chronicling the combustible relationship of a racist white cop (Michael Joiner) assigned to share a police car with an African-American partner (Mike Higgenbottom) who also happens to be a minister. With Lou Gossett, Jr., Cindy Hodge and Joy Parmer Moore.

Hall Pass (R for profanity, sexuality, drug use, graphic nudity and pervasive crude humor). Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis co-star in this buddy comedy about a couple of best friends stuck in stale marriages who are given a week of freedom by their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) with a promise of no questions asked. Ensemble cast includes Richard Jenkins, talk show host Joy Behar, comedienne Kathy Griffin, retired Red Sox great Dwight Evans and J.B. Smoove.

Shelter (R for violence, terror and disturbing images). Harrowing horror flick starring Julianne Moore as a skeptical forensic psychiatrist forced to face the fact that her new patient (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), with multiple personalities, has somehow been assuming them from unsolved murder victims. With Brooklynn Proulx, Frances Conroy and Jeffrey DeMunn.

INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

A Good Man (Unrated). Aussie documentary about a sheep framer-turned-pimp who decided to pay for his quadriplegic wife’s mounting medical expenses after a stroke by opening a brothel.

Heartbeats (Unrated). Love triangle saga, set in Quebec, about a couple of best friends (Monia Chokri and Xavier Dolan) whose close relationship is tested when they both succumb to the charms of a handsome newcomer (Neils Schneider). (In French with subtitles.)

Of Gods And Men (PG-13 for brief profanity, disturbing images and a scene of wartime violence). Jihad drama recounting the real-life slaughter of seven Trappist monks stationed in a monastery in Algeria who were found beheaded after ignoring the warnings of fundamentalist Muslims to vacate the premises. Starring Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale and Olivier Rabourdin. (In Arabic and French with subtitles.)

Public Speaking (Unrated). Reverential biopic revisiting the career of Fran Leibowitz, directed by Martin Scorcese, featuring monologues by the author/journalist/pundit about everything from Obama to her beloved NYC, plus archival footage of literary luminaries like James Baldwin, Truman Capote, William F. Buckley and Toni Morrison.

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