Review of Big Momma’s House (2000)

Big Momma’s House is a crime comedy stars Martin Lawrence, Nia Long, Paul Giamatti, and Terrence Howard.

Here’s the premise: When an FBI agent is tasked with tracking down an escaped convict and his loot, by going undercover as the estranged grandmother of the bad guy’s former girlfriend, the agent is unaware of the bond he will form with her.

I doubt there’s a real FBI case where an agent was assigned to put on a fat-suit in order to impersonate the aunt of a lovely young suspect. Nevertheless, watching Big Momma’s House provided teachable moments about FBI policy and procedures to discuss. In the movie, the undercover agent and his subject become involved in an intimate relationship. That dynamic presents a serious issue to explore.








In the official guidelines on Undercover Operations, the FBI recognizes “undercover techniques inherently involve an element of deception and may require cooperation with persons whose motivation and conduct is open to question, and so should be carefully considered and monitored.” The guidelines also acknowledge the “risk of invasion of privacy or interference with privileged or confidential relationships and should be conducted with minimal intrusion.”

So when an agent develops an intimate relationship with a subject, witness, or source, the integrity of the entire investigation is in jeopardy.

Because the relationship could reasonably give rise to a basis for questioning the interest and/or credibility of the witness, at the minimum, the existence of the relationship needs to be disclosed. Otherwise, it’s a violation of professional ethics. The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is the FBI’s version of internal affairs. OPR has jurisdiction to investigate allegations of misconduct.

“The agency may discipline an employee who engaged in consensual adulterous behavior for conduct unbecoming of a federal employee. Suspension is the typical punishment for such misconduct, but removal may be justifiable under certain circumstances.”

Such circumstances have occurred in a few high-profiled FBI matters. In a corruption case against a federal politician, it was learned that the undercover FBI agent who drove a star witness to all the meetings where she secretly taped and delivered cash to the corrupt official was engaged in a sexual relationship with the witness. Believing that the details of their affair would damage the investigation, the FBI agent never passed that information to the U.S. attorney’s office or the lead FBI agent in the case.

“If the FBI knew an agent had an improper relationship with a witness or confidential source, that information should be disclosed to the court because it could affect the credibility of the informant and the individual agent and investigation.”

Even if there is no proof that the relationship would affect testimony and the verdict of the jury, most prosecutors would choose not to call the agent to the stand to testify as a fact witness in a trial. Disclosure of these troubling relationships has also resulted in charges being dismissed or the granting of a new trial.

In Big Momma’s House, the agent was dating the former girlfriend of his subject.

In real life, an FBI agent was arrested and accused of having an affair with the wife of a man he investigated, using information she gave him to arrest her husband, and revealing the identity of a confidential informant to the woman in an attempt to shorten her son’s jail sentence. The agent was charged with six counts of wire fraud, five counts of lying to the FBI, and seven counts of witness tampering related to his improper sexual relationship and pleaded guilty.

Of course, it could be worse. FBI agent Mark Putnam began a torrid affair with his confidential source. When she threatened to tell his wife and FBI superiors, he killed her. If you haven’t already, listen to the episode about the investigation:

066: Jim Huggins – Mark Putnam, FBI Informant Murderer

Serious stuff, right? I bet you thought this was going to be a review of a silly slapstick comedy. But there are opportunities to learn lessons everywhere, even when watching Big Momma’s House.

Big Momma’s House is streaming on Cinemax and Max and is available for rent on Prime Video and YouTube. Watch the official trailer here.

Jerri Williams

View posts by Jerri Williams
Jerri Williams, a retired FBI agent, author and podcaster, jokes that she writes about the FBI to relive her glory days. After 26 years with the Bureau specializing in major economic fraud and corruption investigations, she calls on her professional encounters with scams and schemers to write police procedurals inspired by true crime FBI cases in her Philadelphia FBI Corruption Squad crime fiction series featuring flawed female FBI agent Kari Wheeler. Jerri’s FBI for Armchair Detectives nonfiction series enables readers to discover who the FBI is and what the FBI does by debunking misconceptions about the FBI in books, TV, and movies. Her books are available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks wherever books are sold. She’s also the host of FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast with more than 300 episodes available on all popular podcast apps and YouTube.

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