Posted by: viewfromacouch | February 28, 2011

BIG MOMMAS: Locked out of the House.

Last night’s Oscar telecast was not only predictable, but terrible too. Of course, that goes without saying. Millions upon millions of people watched it, and many have already slammed its suspect quality far better than I could ever begin to. Instead, I’ve chosen to tear into something nobody’s seen — not even me!

I speak of course of Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, the much-demanded and eagerly anticipated threequel in the series in which Martin Lawrence dresses up like a fat black lady who is a really a skinny black man in a fat-suit in order to…well, no one is quite sure. But that’s not important. Neither is the fact that I haven’t seen this movie, or either of its predecessors.

What is important is that I wanted to see this movie. I volunteered to attend a press screening on behalf of the BCIT campus paper, and even though the movie was most assuredly going to be garbage, I was excited by the prospect of getting to see an advance screening of something for free, nevermind what that something was. The movie itself was secondary, it was the press credentials that I wanted. The fact that the movie would be so obviously terrible would only make it more fun to write about — and I’ve been trying to openly hate a movie for this blog for a while.

And then the screening was cancelled. This wasn’t particularly surprising considering I couldn’t believe the movie was even being screened in the first place, but still — bummer. Crestfallen, I gave up on my dream of reviewing Big Mommas… That is, until the good people at Funny Or Die showed me a shortened version of the film for free. Here, take a look:

You know what? If it really was Urkel in the Martin Lawrence role I actually would go see this thing. Alas, it isn’t so, but that won’t stop me from saying what I had planned on saying about the movie before having seen it.

It breaks my heart to see Brandon T. Jackson show up in crap like this. Really. You expect this kind of garbage from a hack like Lawrence, and while I understand a young actor’s gotta take the work he can get, it saddens me there aren’t better scripts available to a bright young black comedian. Tropic Thunder was three years ago now, and as strong as the leads were in that film, it should have served as a springboard for its youthful supporting players. Jay Baruchel already gets that kind of exposure from his work in the Apatow troupe, but Jackson was a revelation. As a relative unknown, his Alpa Chino went head-to-head with Robert Downey Jr. and not only held his own throughout, but even managed to steal a handful of scenes.

Since then the only comedies he’s shown up in are Lottery Ticket, The Tooth Fairy, and this sack of crap. It’s not just Jackson, though. This Christmas was littered with the kind of “comedies” Thunder so sharply satirized, and sadly, they all starred that film’s principal cast. Ben Stiller returned for a needless threequel of his own (Little Fockers), in a series that by now has probably shaved a year off of Robert De Niro’s life. Jack Black farted and peed on things as a giant in Gulliver’s Travels — the adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s classic tale given a sense of humour more in line with the fictitious Jeff Portnoy “Fatties” series.

What do we do to deserve these movies? If we’re to vote with our dollars, is the general public really lapping this shit up? Yes and no. Travels proved to be a costly bomb for FOX, with a budget $20M larger than Thunder’s, and a domestic gross not even half as large. That the studio needlessly upgraded the film to 3D in post-production probably didn’t help either of those numbers. Meanwhile, Fockers cleaned up in a barren Christmas cinemascape, hauling in $150M. Still, despite a complete lack of explosions and exotic locations, the movie cost $10M more to produce than Thunder, and likely won’t enjoy the kind of longevity on Blu-ray and DVD that Thunder has. Big Mommas cost a fraction of these totals to produce (less than $30M), but has only recouped about half of that so far.

Of course quality is not conducive to profit, and high box office takes are not indicative of quality. Still, there is some degree of correlation. Good movies find a way to make money, while bad movies often don’t. Occasionally a movie will rake in money just by timing alone. Fockers for example is not very good, and isn’t exactly a sequel people were clamouring to see. But it dropped at a time when people want to go see movies, and there was little else worth seeing. Big Mommas, on the other hand, a far worse film, came out in the middle of Oscar season, when people aren’t coming out in droves. The results are fairly predictable.

But this is all secondary. I guess I’m just wondering why we can’t be treated to a Tropic Thunder every year — a legitimately ambitious comedy, as bitingly funny as it is wicked smart. Are these scripts not being greenlit or are they not even being written? A stupid movie is easy money, I get that. But it’s not like there’s no money in shooting for a higher denominator. Easy A, a smart script for a different set, made a killing on a comparatively tiny budget ($58.4M on $8M). On the flop side, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World only managed to recoup half of its $60M budget — but I’ll chalk that one up to poor marketing as I’ve shown the film to several friends on DVD, all of whom are kicking themselves for not taking a chance on it earlier.

So what’s the point? That every movie is a financial risk on some level, and studios are too often playing it safe, banking on brand recognition with unnecessary and unwanted sequels. It’s the risky comedies we remember. In six months, few will recall this movie ever existed. And when you know it’s forgettable, why bother taking it in at all?

[Editor’s Note: I can not for the life of me get the FOD video player to embed properly. It shows up fine in my draft but goes funky as soon as I press Publish/Update. Ahh well, you can just click the link, I suppose.]

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