Tag: tyler perry

Nobody’s Fool

Nobody’s Fool (2018)
★ / ★★★★

Having to sit through “Nobody’s Fool,” written and directed by Tyler Perry, should be considered a form of punishment. For a comedy in general, it is deeply unfunny, lacking comic rhythm, and filled with empty silences simply added to take up time. (This brand of torture lasts for nearly two interminable hours.) For a romantic comedy, there is minimal chemistry between the man and woman with whom we are supposed to want to get together. And for a female empowerment picture, its contradictory messages are not only confusing, they are downright offensive at times. Here is an example of a comedy that is dead on arrival.

I felt embarrassed for the performers who chose to participate in this disaster because they are not without talent, from the highly energetic Tiffany Haddish who plays the motormouth hood sister who has been just released from prison, Whoopi Goldberg as the pothead mother with wise-sounding lines to impart during dire times, to Tika Sumpter as the financially successful sister struggling to find the perfect man. There are individual scenes that showcase the star power of these women, but the poor writing consistently lets them down.

Nearly every scene, for instance, must end with an exclamation point even when it is completely inappropriate. Observe closely as the Sumpter’s character, for example, begins to realize late in the picture that perhaps she is to blame for her own impossible expectations when it comes to romance. (She has a list of what a man must offer her in order to be considered boyfriend-worthy.) The moment of self-assessment is almost immediately eradicated by a desperate attempt at comedy. Observant viewers will be quick to catch that the writer-director is not interested, or even remotely curious, of the human condition that his project attempts to tackle.

Instead, Perry proves to excel in regurgitating appallingly familiar scenarios: sisters with opposite personalities having to live together, a romantic interest overhearing a private telephone conversation and feelings getting hurt, one’s career being in danger because her love life is in turmoil. It is all so tired. One gets the impression that the filmmaker could not be bothered to create intelligent characters with something real to say, do, or fight for just as long as there are images moving on screen. I found its pessimism to be quite insulting. What results is a limp piece of work that is not even worth showing on cable. Or even on the Lifetime channel. Yes, given that it is a Perry picture, you can bet there are melodramatic turns that are both ludicrous and unearned.

With at least ten films under his belt prior to this movie, Perry should be further along now when it comes to delivering entertainment that works even in the most elementary level. While I appreciate that he casts mostly black actors to tell black stories and thereby selling black entertainment, must he be reminded that his target audience deserves better? I could not help but feel angry while watching “Nobody’s Fool” because he treats the audience exactly like one.

Why Did I Get Married Too?

Why Did I Get Married Too? (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Several years after the four couple’s retreat to Colorado which rocked each of their marriages, they are back on continuing their ritual of going away every year for two days, this time to the Bahamas where they hope to catch some sun, drink wine, and relax by the beach. Things are starting to look up until Mike (Richard T. Jones), the former husband of Sheila (Jill Scott), shows up with claims of wanting to set things right. Everyone has a good reason to doubt.

“Why Did I Get Married Too?,” written and directed by Tyler Perry, is not a necessary sequel but it does offer some entertainment value. Angela (Tasha Smith), the loudest among her girlfriends, with her unending suspicion that her husband, Marcus (Michael Jai White), now a sportscaster on television, is having an affair is so darn funny, she deserves her own movie. It’s difficult not to appreciate the performance behind the character because in every scene Smith is heard yelling and screaming. Yes, her voice can break glass (and push buttons) but there’s a joy to her acting, almost like she’s poking fun of a very exaggerated version of herself, which makes me want to know what really bothers the character. Angela’s lack of trust, though played through a comedic angle, is relatable.

On a much darker note, Patricia (Janet Jackson) and Gavin (Malik Yoba) have decided to get a divorce which is a turning point for the couples because their marriage is seen as a beacon. The fact the screenplay allows the two of them to really fight it out, not being afraid to show physical violence that comes with arguments so intense that it’s draining and heartbreaking. When the camera tightens on the faces and highlights the animosity that the characters feel toward one another, whether it be a twitch around the mouth or a glisten in the eye, it creates great drama. I commend Jackson for not being shy to look and act ugly which is a requirement for us to believe that Patricia’s life has reached its nadir.

Since the Bahamas is such an exciting place to be in, it’s disappointing that the picture does not take full advantage of its beauty. It’s quite bizarre that at times the photography looks flat. For instance, when the characters are hanging out at the beach, the camera is quite static, very ordinary in that it doesn’t pull toward or away from its subjects with any sort of rhythm and only consistently cutting to the person who is about talk which gives the impression that actors are being fed their lines. Because of this flatness, a few scenes that are supposed to be funny or insightful come off muted.

The film is missing a third act. The way the problems are solved, rather quickly if I may add, is overshadowed by a momentous event. It does not fit the theme of the material, one being that healthy relationships, at the very least, require an open communication and sticking together through the bad times. Sometimes unexpected events that are supposed to be taken seriously can come across quite silly and falter under poor execution.


Acrimony (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Despite the melodrama that unfolds for the majority of the picture, “Acrimony,” written and directed by Tyler Perry, is almost effective because it is tethered so tightly around Taraji P. Henson’s performance. Henson plays a woman so filled with unconsolable rage that those closest to her are afraid she will hurt those who she feels did her wrong. Told in flashback, beginning when Melinda (Henson) meets Robert (Lyriq Bent) in college (the younger couple played by Ajiona Alexus and Antonio Madison), the material is able to generate a slow but powerful forward momentum only to fall apart during the final thirty minutes.

Dramatic thrillers rest so much on the payoff, the catharsis the audience must feel in their bones or the reward for having the patience to try and understand the perspective of the key characters, even though some of them are not written as sharply as should be so that they come across as living, breathing people rather than mere pawns to be moved in and around the plot. Melinda’s madness is not as interesting as her suffering as a girlfriend and eventual wife who invests everything she has—money, time, energy, emotional and physical support—on her husband’s dream of inventing a battery capable of recharging itself. (Because many of Perry screenplays are notorious for being heavy-handed, this work not being an exception, yes, the battery is a metaphor for the state of the couple’s marriage.)

The first half is strong because we are made to understand why Melinda feels betrayed. I enjoyed that the screenplay shows she is capable of empathy, making huge sacrifices, and having the patience when it is extremely difficult to remain in control of a situation. At the same time, the material is willing to show us her flaws apart from her disturbing anger issues. For instance, she has a habit of taking certain actions or words so personally when there really is no malicious intent. Those who look beyond the anger will be able to recognize a person who feels so much that she ends up latching onto those who make her feel important or valued—even to the point when she is no longer treated as important or valued.

There are some fresh choices in photography. Although Perry employs a darker lighting in order to pummel viewers over the head that what they are seeing is, in fact, a thriller, particularly surprising are instances when the writer-director subjects Henson under particularly harsh lighting to the point where it is unflattering. And I admire Henson for being willing to look so unappealing because the material demands that her character be as ugly or as monstrous as possible at a given time. While some may consider this as a misstep, I applaud it because, unless a movie is supposed to be a contender for major awards toward the end of the year, directors usually do not wish to show their actors in unfavorable frames.

It does not dispel the fact that the last act requires major revisions, perhaps even reshoots. The violence is cartoonish, the slow motions command no effect, and the dialogue sounds as though it were written by a teenager who has seen one too many reality shows and not read enough books (or at least seen a good number of quality movies). During this time, I could not help but feel robbed because I know the filmmakers and actors involved are so much better than the cheesy and ridiculous confrontation on a boat—proven by the solid ninety minutes that just came before.

Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Beware: those who expect a high-class medical drama are likely to be disappointed with “Brain on Fire,” based on a true story of a healthy young woman who finds herself suddenly plagued with an enchilada of terrifying symptoms, from auditory and visual hallucinations to intense seizures and huge gaps of memory loss. But those with a penchant for disease-of-the-week television shows are equally likely to be engaged with the mysterious case at hand.

One might argue that the film’s greatest limitation is a barebones screenplay which makes the story feel rather non-cinematic. In its attempt to trim the fat completely and focus on the rare disease, it excises nearly everything else, particularly the complexities of the subject’s work life (Tyler Perry, Jenny Slate), love life (Thomas Mann), and family life (Carrie-Anne Moss, Richard Armitage). In a story like this, personalization is most critical because extra details lead to substance which helps to put a face on a particular disease.

Despite its occasional lack of subtlety, a few cringe-inducing dialogue, and familiar beats inherent to medical dramas, I found the work to be thoroughly engaging otherwise. While I craved to look closely at the medical charts and X-rays, especially exchanges filled with medical jargon, the screenplay by writer-director Gerard Barrett breezes through them because it is not his goal to create a first-class medical drama. And that is perfectly fine. I think the point of the project is two-fold: to make an easily digestible work for the more casual viewers and to shed light on a rare disease, and perhaps others like it, that is often misdiagnosed by the brightest professionals. On this level, it works.

Chloë Grace Moretz plays twenty-one-year-old Susannah Cahalan, a journalist for the New York Post. Her debilitation from a very lively woman to a catatonic vegetable is convincing and, at some point, genuinely touching. Perhaps the strongest moments are instances when the camera takes its time to show the subject’s pallid limbs, how her fingers liken that of old branches, how she can barely stand let alone put one foot in front of the other. Showing the effects of a disease is so important not just because it is frightening or sad but because it underlines the fact that every human disease has a cause and therefore an effect. We forget this fact sometimes, especially groups that choose to turn a blind eye on science.

While Moretz is front and center nearly throughout the film, it is Slate who steals the spotlight every time the two performers share a scene. Slate is known mostly as a comedian, but she proves once again that she can be equally effective in dramatic roles (“Obvious Child,” “Landline”). Look closely when Margo, played by Slate, visits her co-worker at the hospital. Margo is not used to seeing Susannah in such a vulnerable, wilted state and it devastates her. Notice the way Slate starts the scene with a comic weapon compared to how she ends it with a completely different technique. It’s impressive.

“Brain on Fire” can be criticized for being formulaic, but there is a reason why formulas exist. It is because when a formula works, it gets the job done. Such is the case in this curious picture. As someone who works in the field of science, it never ceases to amaze me how much we’ve learned in the past fifty to a hundred years—and also how much we have yet to learn. Imagine diseases out there with no correct answers yet—but are given “answers” anyway because some pieces, not all, seem to fit. It goes to show that our knowledge is still limited and we have work to do. Keep in mind, too, that certain diseases evolve over time.

For Colored Girls

For Colored Girls (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Based on “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf,” a play by Ntozake Shange, the film attempts to balance seven interconnecting stories of African-American women, from a talented sixteen-year-old dancer with a good chance of going to college (Tessa Thompson) to a very successful but emotionally cold editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine (Janet Jackson). Despite a wealth of dramatic elements in the script, Tyler Perry, the director and the screenwriter, fails to minimize certain aspects in order for the work to exude a cinematic texture rather than that of of a stage play.

The seven actresses in focus are divine. Kimberly Elise stands out as Crystal, a woman with two young children who chooses to endure physical abuse from her husband. It is a smart decision to give Crystal the most screen time because out of all the subjects, her struggle, in my opinion, is most common. Loretta Devine as Juanita, leading a non-profit organization who educates women about healthy choices when it comes to sex, and Thandie Newton as Tangie, obsessed with bringing home a different man each night, are not far behind in capturing our attention.

Although the performers do what they can and are able to shine at times, the script seems at a loss on how to deal with characters representing extremes. Most painful to watch is Alice (Whoopi Goldberg), an extremely devout woman who is angry and worried that her children fail to match her level of faith. The character is written as if she were a crazy person, always going on about everybody going to hell. Everyone else is so human except for her. On the other side of the spectrum, Gilda (Phylicia Rashad) is written too much like a saint. Everything she does is so tender, her personality is too sweet, and her decisions are always perfect. Whenever Alice and Gilda are in front of the camera, we do not connect with them fully because they do not act or feel like actual people.

There is a lack of steady rhythm as the film jumps from one strand to another. For example, just as a grim scene is about to reach its climax, it cuts to another story that is sweet, and then onto another that is somewhat amusing. Finally, when it returns to one that feels most urgent, it is no longer as exciting or as interesting. It feels like a chore when we are forced to orient ourselves in a zone of gloom.

The picture is sabotaged by long, poetic speeches. While it might have worked in the play because the experience is first-hand, they do not translate well on screen. The poetic words strung together offer a wealth of wisdom but I was not convinced that the realizations, when expressed through speeches, ring true. It comes off trying too hard. It falls completely flat when an actress tries to push the words to create a semblance of strength when laying back or speaking softly might have been a better choice to match the message being delivered.

“For Colored Girls” might have been a stronger work if it were helmed by someone who has a more focused vision when it comes to which elements from a play should make it on screen as they are and which should be modified in order to preserve the essence of the material’s integrity. I am sure that the intention is not to make certain characters appear cartoonish or ridiculous, but that is exactly what happens when someone does not stop and ask whether something would work through a specific medium.

Boo 2! A Madea Halloween

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

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.

A Madea Christmas

A Madea Christmas (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Lacey (Tika Sumpter), a new schoolteacher in Alabama, tells her mother, Eileen (Anna Maria Horsford), that she will not be able to make it home for Christmas because the school has to make up missed days and she is overseeing the Christmas Jubilee, an event that everybody in town looks forward to every year. Eileen has an idea: Along with Madea (Tyler Perry) and Lacey’s ex-boyfriend (JR Lemon), they will surprise Lacey with a visit. But there is a problem: Although Lacey has told the truth about her busy schedule, she has not yet told her mother that the man she is living with, Conner (Eric Lively), is her husband. Because Conner is white, Lacey suspects that Eileen will likely overreact.

I guess I am one of the few reviewers who actually enjoy the Madea movies, despite the logical flaws ingrained in them, and try to go into each one with an open mind. But “A Madea Christmas,” written and directed by Tyler Perry, is easily one of the weaker pictures in the series because although some humor remains, the plot and subplots are so all over the map, that the material, as a whole, never gathers enough momentum to get us to care. It is a would-be Christmas movie with no heart—at least a convincing one—and that is an elementary mistake considering the sub-genre it happens to fall under.

The unifying theme is acceptance. A mother must accept the fact that her daughter is a full-grown woman, smart, and thus more than capable of making her own decisions. A daughter must accept that although her mother may react negatively toward having married a white man, the fact must be faced with grace and not with continual avoidance. With respect to its handful of subplots, a community must accept that they are in need of help financially, that the Christmas Jubilee that they so value may not take place as a result. They are so desperate, someone actually suggests taking funds out of the school’s budget.

These are serious issues worthy of tackling in a comedy. Although these elements are presented in a Madea movie, it is not too much to expect a little bit of intelligence and real insight once in a while. I enjoy Perry’s sassy character because she always has great one-liners, especially when she gets upset toward somebody acting foolish or spoiled, but Madea does very little to contribute to the story and where it may be heading. Madea is the star, but it is strange that she is prevented from moving beyond the fast-, trash-talking friend that someone either loves or fears.

For a story that takes place around Christmas, one that wishes to instill good values, the final ten to fifteen minutes is downright immoral in its own way. A big problem involving the farming community is solved with subterfuge and everything ends up all right. There is no repercussion, only Christmas music. It comes off wrong and distasteful. Just when I thought there would be repercussions, the movie just ends.

“A Madea Christmas” is very slow-moving, poorly written, deadly dull at times that I could not help but wonder where the Madea I am entertained by had gone. It is as if the real Madea went on vacation and what we have here instead is a mere imitation, the filmmakers hoping that we would be too ignorant to recognize difference.

Good Deeds

Good Deeds (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

Wesley Deeds (Tyler Perry) has always done what was expected of him, so unlike his brother, Walter (Brian White), the rebel, who has gotten so bitter over the years, it seems like he is out to sabotage everyone who was and is good to him. And with a mother (Phylicia Rashad) who has very high expectations, she gives the impression that making a mistake is a permanent character flaw.

She insists that Wesley, the son she prefers, marries Natalie (Gabrielle Union), a woman from a respectable background who craves spontaneity and excitement in her life—qualities that do not come easily to Wesley, the CEO of Deeds, Incorporated, let alone offer to someone else. When Wesley meets Lindsey (Thandie Newton), however, the fighter in her makes him question whether the life he is living is the life he wanted.

Written and directed by Tyler Perry, “Good Deeds” possesses some elements of engaging drama, like the blossoming relationship between Wesley and Lindsey, the businessman and his janitor during graveyard shift, but the material is greatly offset by painfully one-dimensional characters like the angry brother, disapproving mother, and the fiancée with unmet needs.

I was moved by Lindsey’s situation of being a mother with a daughter (Jordenn Thompson) with whom she has to raise all on her own. The poverty that they experience together provides an obvious but nonetheless effective contrast against the posh problems in Wesley’s beautiful home and office.

I enjoyed Newton’s performance because she has a way of balancing anger and desperation without looking like the actor is out of her depth for the sake of delivering intense angst and tears. In her early scenes, especially one that takes place in a parking garage, we can almost see the wall between the two negative emotions—and their accompanying defense mechanisms—disintegrate and build up again. Despite Newton playing a character who knows how it is like to be poor, hungry, and homeless, we are given a chance experience a softer side of Lindsey eventually.

However, I wished that Wesley was not portrayed as being too good because there were times when I thought he was boring. Subtlety is clearly not the screenplay’s greatest strength because the title must be enforced consistently. It is simply too long of a wait before we finally see a change in Wesley. It would have been more interesting if the picture had consistently shown the protagonist becoming infatuated to deviate from the norm he built for himself without actually going through it. Then, once he finally does, it would make sense because the change that happened within him would not come off as forced or simply as a tool to move the plot forward.

Most unfortunate depiction is Wesley’s family being relegated to stereotypes. Due to the film’s almost two-hour running time, it does not make sense that there is not much effort in turning them into well-rounded characters. As a result, the scenes surrounding the family feel like a part of soap opera—a lot of yelling, screaming, and pointed looks in close-ups but collectively they carry little gravity.

“Good Deeds” is like a bowl of soup that consists of vegetables that I either loved or found très dégoûtant. When you have good soup with some ingredients that are unbearable to your own palate, you do not dispose the entire thing. You pick out the bad stuff and not eat them. My experience with the film is a reflection of this.

Why Did I Get Married?

Why Did I Get Married? (2007)
★★ / ★★★★

Four couples go on an annual trip, this time staying on a cabin in snowy Colorado, serving as a retreat so each couple can reassess their respective marriages by voicing out their concerns and what they can do better to stay married. Patricia (Janet Jackson) has written a bestseller about their experiences, but a new set of problems threatens to cut their vacation short.

Written, directed, and produced by Tyler Perry, although “Why Did I Get Married?” is easily able to reach dramatic heights by asking questions about the trials and tribulations of marriage, it is at times tonally confused, inserting pockets of comedy that come across as inappropriate when the serious issues at hand need to be addressed with urgency. While the comedy is indeed very funny at times, there are moments when I found myself feeling guilty for laughing with, as well as at, the characters.

The married folks placed under a microscope are middle- to upper-class African-Americans. Despite this distinction in race and class, the problems that they have are broad enough to be relatable on some level. Perhaps the ugliest marriage is between Sheila (the luminous Jill Scott) and Mike (Richard T. Jones). When a flight attendant kicks her out of the plane because she had only booked one ticket when airline policy made it clear that people who carried a certain amount of body weight needed to pay for two, Mike further embarrasses his wife by suggesting that she drive across states while he stays on the plane with her friend with whom he intends on having an affair. The conflict in the marriage is digestible because there is a clear good versus bad, but it remains interesting because we are curious to see if or when Sheila will wise up and leave the relationship. Because she’s used to being treated as a doormat, it isn’t always clear whether she can grow a backbone overnight.

The couple that is more or less played for laughs involves Angela (Tasha Smith) and Marcus (Michael Jai White). Not only is Angela very controlling, she’s very aggressive physically and verbally. She loves to hit below the belt and make her husband feel less than, especially when it comes to money, given that she provides him employment. The comedy enters the equation when someone, whether it be a man or a woman, tries to put Angela in her place to no avail. She’s not one to back down from a fight. I was most curious about her, what she’s attempting to cover up considering she makes the most noise. However, the way her character is dealt with leaves much to be desired.

The resolutions do not always fit each subplot. With the marriages that have hope of reconciliation, I was especially bothered by the fact that the women, even if the men have their share of flaws, did most of the apologizing. It seems like Perry needed more inspiration while finishing the screenplay because the final product is aswarm with typicalities: men are given scenes when they “man up” to their problems and women are given time to cry. It’s an odd and contradictory approach given that the women are supposed to be smart, strong, and independent while holding down first-class careers.

Madea’s Big Happy Family

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.

Madea’s Witness Protection

Madea’s Witness Protection (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

George (Eugene Levy) not only learned that Lockwise Industries, a company that various charities and the mob had invested in, was a part of a Ponzi scheme, he was going down with it because he was the chief financial officer. Brian (Tyler Perry), a federal prosecutor, was convinced of George’s innocence, who happened to agree to become a key witness against his former superiors, so Brian asked his aunt Madea (also played by Perry), for a fee, to hide George and his family until the case was over. $4000 a month was a lot of money so Madea just couldn’t refuse the opportunity. Written and directed by Tyler Perry, say what you will about the Madea films, “Madea’s Witness Protection” being one of them, although most of them could barely stand as a feature film, one couldn’t deny that a handful of their individual scenes are riotously funny. The strength of this picture could be found within the first and last thirty minutes, leaving the middle section with a deeply frustrating lack of comedic focus. Whenever Madea was not front and center being her sassy self and using all sorts of non-existent words (or mistaking words for that matter–see: Wi-Fi versus waffle), it was like watching a flower wilting right before our eyes. Especially a trial to watch and listen to was Levy’s performance. I wasn’t entirely sure if most of his lines were scripted or extemporaneous but what was apparent was his unending, too harsh of an attempt to be funny. He was always yelling at someone, I could feel my ears folding themselves inwards so they would no longer have to listen. Granted, his character was supposed to ooze frustration because he was essentially taking the fall for a scheme he had no knowledge of, but it did not excuse Levy from not injecting variation to his performance. Furthermore, the subplot involving Jake (Romeo) lacking the courage to tell his father that the money to be used to pay off the church’s debt was lost in the Ponzi scheme was simply not interesting. It seemed like Jake was only there to stir up trouble. What the picture needed more was Madea’s interactions with the family. One of the best scenes involved Madea’s utter horror when she discovered that the family Brian talked about was white. Because she was unable to express the full extent of her thoughts right in front of the family, that was pure gold because we had gotten accustomed to seeing her react in a certain boisterous way when she disagreed with a particular matter or situation. The little nuggets of tough love that Madea gave the family she was assigned to house, though extreme at times, had truths to them. I enjoy watching her because I recognize my perceived level of honesty and even downright brazenness in her that I don’t see reflected in a lot of comedies. Madea was at her most entertaining during a trip to New York City which began at the airport security. It made me consider that I wouldn’t mind seeing a movie about Madea simply going on vacation to a place that was completely foreign to her. I think many, whether they could admit it or not, would be able to relate on some level. If only the final thirty minutes was as hilarious as the rest of the film, most people wouldn’t be so dismissive or judgmental of this brand of comedy. “Madea’s Witness Protection,” in terms of its story’s flow, was at times crippled by missing scenes, especially during its flabby middle section. However, I did laugh quite a lot so it wasn’t half bad.

The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

A mother (Taraji P. Henson) and her son Dre (Jaden Smith) moved to China for better opportunities. On their first day in China, Dre developed a crush on a girl (Wenwen Han) with a talent for music but a bully (Zhenwei Wang) just as quickly interrupted their conversation. It turned out the bully was not just someone Dre needed to watch out for around his apartment complex because they both attended the same school. The fact that the bully knew kung fu did not help Dre’s confidence. The film was without a doubt commercial and at times cliché, but I could not help but enjoy it. There were three elements I loved about it. First, the maintenance man (Jackie Chan) did not teach Dre kung fu until about an hour and fifteen minutes into the story. I thought it was a big risk because the film had the challenge of keeping the audiences interested. It was a smart decision because it successfully established why Dre was someone worth rooting for. For instance, although Dre was bullied, he was not afraid to fight back. Unfortunately, he did not have the technical skills to stand up against other boys who knew martial arts. I found it very easy to relate with Dre moving to a different country and having trouble fitting in. When I moved to America when I was twelve, to say that the transition was difficult is an understatement because I didn’t know the language well and I wasn’t fully equipped to adapt a new culture. So when Dre finally confronted his mom about how much he hated being in China, that scene had a special meaning to me. Second, Henson was pure joy to watch. I’ve mostly seen her in Tyler Perry’s movies so I knew that she was very capable of delivering angst and sadness. I was surprised that she could actually be funny. Every time she was on screen, I couldn’t help but smile because she injected a certain enthusiasm in her character, that everything in China was great, and she was ready to be strong for her son when the occassion called for it. Her facial expressions were priceless. Lastly, the scenes in the tournament made me feel like I was there. The build-up regarding Dre’s hardwork, the bullying, and honor at stake finally came to fruition. Even though Dre’s mentor consoled him that winning or losing did not matter as long as he earned the audience’s respect, I thought Dre had to win no matter what. I was so invested in what was happening, I couldn’t help but vocalize my thoughts. “The Karate Kid,” directed by Harald Zwart, worked as an interpretation rather than a remake. It did not have anything to do with karate (the filmmakers should have just named it “The Kung Fu Kid” to silence the haters–a simple solution) but I was entertained for over two hours.

Date Night

Date Night (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Steve Carell and Tina Fey star as a married couple who decided to go to the city on their date night to get away from the ennui of their busy schedules which mostly revolved around work and their kids. To spice things up a bit, they decided to go to an exclusive fancy restaurant which required reservations months in advance. Since they didn’t make one, Carell and Fey decided to pretend to be another couple–a couple involved in theft and currently being pursued by corrupt cops (Common, Jimmi Simpson) who seemed to work for the mob of some sort. When I saw the trailers for this film, I knew I had to watch it because casting arguably the funniest people in Hollywood right now is genius. What I loved about this movie most was not because of the story–mistaken identities, a couple feeling like their marriage lacked spark; I’ve seen it all before–but because of the chemistry between Fey and Carell. They matched each other’s awkwardness and both had great comedic timing. The two actors managed to pull off genuinely tender moments between them where I couldn’t help but feel touched. They were a believable couple and that’s why I cared about their characters. Written by Josh Klausner and directed by Shawn Levy, the script and the filmmakers allowed the two leads to play on their strengths and let the awkwardness linger to the point of saturation. But “Date Night” was as funny as it was exciting. The scene when the two cars (one owned by constantly shirtless Mark Wahlberg, a conceit I was glad that the actor embraced) couldn’t uncouple from one another was a definite standout. It was so much fun to watch, I wished that I was in that car with them. However, I did wish that the side characters had more screen time. For instance, Leighton Meester as the babysitter, Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo as the couple about to get a divorce, Taraji P. Henson (who I love in those “Tyler Perry” movies) as the honest detective, and James Franco (doing his “sparkly eyes” thing that I’m always impressed with) and Mila Kunis as the weird but hilarious couple involved in blackmail. Nevertheless, the movie was so much fun and the adventures all over New York City reminded me of “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.” Those who are in the mood for good-natured comedy with a spice of action will definitely enjoy this movie, while fans of Fey and Carell will undoubtedly be happy with it.