Boo 2! A Madea Halloween (2017)
★ / ★★★★
One way to elevate a goofy slapstick comedy is to inject it with so much enthusiasm to the point of overdose. While “Boo 2! A Madea Halloween,” written and directed by Tyler Perry, is not short on zeal, the sequel is limp and uninspired exactly because it suffers from a shortage of ideas. Clearly, another way to surpass a predecessor is to take the first idea, now familiar to us, and either turn it into something else entirely or elaborate upon it so the viewers are provided insight or new perspective. Here is a film that rests on its laurels.
This time around, bratty Tiffany (Diamond White) has turned eighteen and so she believes she is now an adult and therefore capable of doing whatever she wants. So, her first order of business is to repair relationships with sleazy frat brothers (Andre Hall, Tito Ortiz, Brock O’Hurn) whom Madea (Perry) had taught a lesson exactly a year ago which involves making sure that they do not mess around with underaged girls. Tiffany’s ulterior motive is to get invited to the frat party in Lake Derrick, a place where fourteen murders have occurred and no suspect was apprehended. Hanging out in a mass murder zone is something cool to do these days. Madea, of course, learns about the party.
The plot is as useless as a fork in a bowl of soup, but plot is an afterthought in a movie like this. It must be evaluated on the basis of how successful it is when it comes to delivering upon the level of comedy with a few horror elements. It is, after all, Halloween-themed. Taking this into account, there is not much to recommend here other than the occasionally amusing banter among Madea, Joe (also played by Perry), Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), and Hattie (Patrice Lovely). They may be elderly but they are capable of pulling off dumb, dirty, sassy jokes. The performers are game to do whatever is necessary to wring laughter out of the audience.
I found the horror elements to be a bore for the most part. It alludes to villains like Leatherface (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” series), Samara (“The Ring” series), and The Miner (“My Bloody Valentine”), but the screenplay fails to offer anything fresh about these antagonists. The formula is simple: they appear out of the corner of the screen, render teenagers screaming for their lives, and disappear into the night. The so-called scares between threat and lascivious teens are the least entertaining parts of the picture because we can predict what is going to happen exactly from the moment the scene begins. Much more tolerable to sit through are interactions between Madea’s group and these modern classic villains.
Tyler Perry movies tend to reveal lessons about the importance of family and tough love—not subtle lessons but the kind that pounds the viewers into submission just so everybody gets the point. It is disappointing then that the journey to get to the lesson is not executed even in a mildly clever way, certainly not like in the predecessor where it somewhat sneaks up on the viewer because there are so many parts of the story moving at once. This film takes a more straightforward, predictable, boring approach. It is a cash grab to the bone.
Boo! A Madea Halloween (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
Tyler Perry’s “Boo! A Madea Halloween” is neither an inspired nor an inspiring comedy, but it tries very hard—with energy to spare—to wring out every bit of laughter out of the audience, for better or worse. Sometimes less is more and if the writer-director wishes to continue to get better at his craft, he would take this common saying to heart and actually lead with it. Thus, what results here is a mixed bag—uproariously funny in spots, amusing during certain stretches, and sometimes when jokes fall flat, the silence awkward and deafening.
The plot is simple and straightforward—necessary characteristics of a mainstream comedy where the story is rather negligible but the performances usually make or break the material. Brian (played by Perry) has a teenager named Tiffany (Diamond White) who does not listen to him and has an attitude that raises eyebrows. She intends to attend a Halloween party at a fraternity house—even though she’s still a minor. Her father is needed to work the same night of the party and so to ensure that Tiffany does not sneak out of the house and put herself in danger, Brian calls Madea (also played by Perry) and asks that she stay overnight. Expectedly, Tiffany finds a way to the college party anyway and, just as expectedly, she had underestimated Madea’s authority.
The banters among characters, three played by the same actor, is what holds the picture together. The camera placement in the living room might be a bit off or the lighting could be too dim or too bright to the extent in which one could see the imperfections of a character’s heavy makeup, but once the firecracker dialogue is front and center, the technical aspects matter less… so long as the script is at least equal to the enthusiasm of the performers.
Therein lies the problem. There are a handful of scenes, particularly ones that take place in a living room, that become repetitive eventually to the point where the writing does not feel or sound as sharp nor as quick-witted compared to the moment when the four characters (Perry playing two of them and the others played by Cassi Davis and Patrice Lovely) had just settled in their chairs. Notice that when these four are in another room or leave the house for a couple of minutes, the material comes alive once again. Perry should have played around with more locations because the old folks are funnier when on their feet and moving around.
There are sudden changes in tone that work and changes that fall completely flat. When comedy and horror are in hand-in-hand, laughter turning into anticipation and gasps of terror, the picture commands a sense of purpose. We realize we really are watching a Halloween-themed comedy, not just a comedy that just so happens to take place during Halloween. Would-be horror-comedies could actually learn a thing or two from some of the scenes here, particularly the bathroom and attic scenes. One of the most important elements horror films and comedies have in common in order for them to work is timing. Perfect timing turns laughter into gasps of horror, vice-versa. Get the timing off and the audience is mired in uncomfortable silence.
Most ineffective is the final fifteen minutes. “Madea” movies tend to suffer from an uncontrollable need to preach to the audience. While it offers lessons for young people and adults alike, they need not be hammered into our heads so forcefully and repetitively that it eventually takes some of the power from the statements it wishes to make. Perry, as a writer and filmmaker, needs to work on subtlety in order to pave the way for positive lasting impressions.
Madea’s Big Happy Family (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
Shirley (Loretta Devine) is informed by her doctor that her cancer has returned. Despite her physician’s suggested course of action, Shirley claims that she is too tired to deal with another round of treatments and so she is going to let nature take its course. With the help of Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), Shirley’s sister, the entire family is invited for dinner so the news can be shared. However, Shirley’s three children, Tammy (Natalie Desselle), Kimberly (Shannon Kane), and Byron (Bow Wow), cannot help but drag their problems to their sick mother’s home.
Written and directed by Tyler Perry, “Madea’s Big Happy Family” offers moments of extreme hilarity only to be watered down by unfunny extended jokes that come right after. For instance, when Madea (Tyler Perry) triies to order some fast food at a drive-thru only to be greeted by an astonishingly rude crew member who claims they have none of items that Madea wants, it is very funny. The rapid-fire dialogue and the attitude that accompanies the script reach a synergy. But when Madea plows her car into the burger place which leaves half the place in ruins, while extreme and initially shocking, it is no longer amusing because it had gotten to the point where it is trying too hard to be funny. Receiving rude service can happen to anyone; it is relatable and that is the reason why the setup works. But seeing someone purposefully driving her car into a public place where people can get hurt not only happens once in a blue moon, it is criminal.
Tammy, Kimberly, and Byron’s issues are handled quite well in the first half. Tammy and Kimberly treat their husbands with utter disrespect. Their interactions are ugly to watch, but there is honesty and genuine pain underneath their behavior. Many of us have seen married couples who treat each other that way while out in public and even in private family gatherings. One cannot help but wonder what is going on in their homes.
Kimberly is too strict with her child because she fears that her child may end up like Tammy’s. Clearly, she has superiority issues. Meanwhile, Tammy allows her spoiled children to call her names. Her brats claim she looks like a maid, to say the least, and each time she fails do anything about it. If I disrespected my mother like that, she would have slapped me across the face with flip-flops and dragged me across the floor to be shown the door.
Lastly, Byron, an eighteen-year-old father, is constantly urged by his girlfriend (Lauren London) to sell drugs so she can have more money to spend. At this point we must wonder why half the females in the picture are portrayed as harpies.
The film showcases plenty of drama that range from harmless to mildly involving, but most frustrating is that it rarely focuses on Shirley’s illness. Once Madea is in front of the camera, it is a hurricane of jokes and sassiness. I wished Perry has decided to step back and assess, all jokes aside, why the family is on the verge of collapse. Sometimes being loud and in-your-face is used as a mask to hide something deeper. But the writer-director never allows his material to get to that point. In the end, it is simply a parade of one-dimensional characters.