Madea's Family Reunion

Last year, Diary of a Mad Black Woman seemed to come out of nowhere. Its box office success took everybody by surprise, and it was all due to playwright Tyler Perry. Perry, who has a wonderful rags-to-riches story, has a huge following in the South, and used this along with word-of-mouth to get people in theaters to watch his movies. He brings to the screen the same energy he brings to his live stage shows, which is the main problem with his movies. They are all over the place. What works on stage, where Perry can play off his audience, does not always work on film. Typically, this means that the movie feels artificial and crusty. For Perry, Madea's Family Reunion is all over the place. Perry is all over the place. He mixes broad slapstick humor with serious themes like domestic abuse and divorce, sometimes switching between the two within seconds. Instead of a coherent feel, Madea's Family Reunion zips unevenly from drama to comedy.

Part of this is due to Perry, who plays multiple roles. He is in drag for the title role, a no-nonsense, tough-talkin' old black woman who isn't afraid to speak her mind, Madea's ancient and lecherous brother Uncle Joe, and Brian, a lawyer. And the fact of the matter is, watching Perry in drag is not that funny. He acts outrageous, mispronounces words, and doles out tough love to the people around him. Madea serves as the voice who can say what everybody is thinking. And this is where Perry's movies become interesting. Perry wants to make a movie that edifies black men and women. It is a welcome and unfortunately unusual view in today's movies, but one really wishes he could go about everything a bit better.

The women are victims who are trying to better their lives. They are the most well-rounded characters. Vanessa (Lisa Arrindell Anderson, Big Momma's House 2, Clockers) is a divorcee with two young children. She has trust issues with men, and is extremely wary about anybody who shows an interest in her. Lisa (Rochelle Aytes, White Chicks) is engaged to a man who beats her. Perry wants to show them overcoming huge obstacles to become whole women. Again, a good concept, but when the men enter the picture, things fall apart. While the women are three-dimensional characters, the men are laughably flat. Boris Kodjoe (The Gospel, Brown Sugar) play Frankie, the perfect man. He is supernaturally good looking, has a great body, loves children, is virtuous, kind, and caring. So much so that he is boring. Frankie woos a skeptical Vanessa. Lisa's fiance Carlos (Blair Underwood, Something New, G) is the complete opposite. He is a boorish monster with no redeeming qualities. Perry makes so obviously violent that it's hard to see what Lisa saw in him. This manages to make her character look worse. It's also a bad move for Underwood, who has now played the same role three times in a row.

Madea is also a foster mother to Nikki (Keke Palmer, Barbershop 2), and Lisa and Vanessa's mother (Lynn Whitfield, Head of State, A Time for Dancing) meddles in the lives of her daughters. Perry throws in as much as is humanly possible, mixing in acting legend Cicely Tyson (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Because of Winn-Dixie) and poet Maya Angelou (How to Make an American Quilt, Poetic Justice) with fart jokes and Uncle Joe and friends ogling young women in short shorts bending over. Madea's Family Reunion wallows in melodrama; it just doesn't do it that well.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 47 minutes, Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, domestic violence, sex, and drug references.

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