Directed by: Tyler Perry
Starring: Tyler Perry, Lynn Whitfield, Lisa Arrindell, Rochelle Aytes, Blair Underwood, Boris Kodjoe
Walking out of the Martin Lawrence atrocity Big Momma's House 2 a few weeks ago, I was interested to hear a number of people not discussing the film at hand, but talking excitedly about the looming prospect of Madea's Family Reunion.
It appears that movies featuring black men in fat-suit drag, dispensing a combination of smart remarks and the collected wisdom of the ages as filtered through Hattie McDaniel (best known as Mammy in Gone With the Wind), Louise Beavers (best known as Aunt Delilah in Imitation of Life) and Moms Mabley (best known as Moms Mabley), fill some kind of long-felt want. Who knew?
There's sociological material here for days and days, starting with the very on-target observation a friend of mine made last week concerning Alyson Hannigan's fat-suit scenes in Date Movie -- that in a few years, we'll view this whole fat-suit business the way we now view the use of blackface.
All that to one side, what we have here is the sequel (one of a planned seven) to last year's fluke hit, Diary of a Mad Black Woman -- a preposterous, overheated, melodramatic mish-mash that attempted to sell the Gospel with (as I noted at the time) "flatulence, horny old men, penis-size jokes, vengeful wronged women, outrageous drag queen grandmas and drug humor." And Madea is more of the same -- in abundance.
This round, writer Perry has fired his director (not that Darren Grant brought a lot to the first film) and taken the reins himself, while still playing not only Madea, but her gaseous brother Joe and Joe's more-or-less normal son, Brian. As if this weren't enough, he also shares credit for the music. Perry turns out to be about as good a filmmaker as he is a writer -- in other words, he's not much of one. Like his writing, his filmmaking is cliche-ridden, rudimentary, completely unfocused and about as subtle as a wind-breaking contest in church.
Once again, Perry trades heavily on his Lifetime Network penchant for domestic violence. This round we have Madea's niece, Lisa (Rochelle Aytes, White Chicks), a luckless woman being pushed into a lucrative marriage to an abusive financial advisor, Carlos (Blair Underwood, Something New), by her gold-digging, upscale mother, Victoria (Lynn Whitfield, Head of State). Mom doesn't much care that Carlos has a marked tendency to beat up her daughter, but then the more we find out about mom -- especially in another particularly outrageous plot-line involving Lisa's half-sister, Vanessa (TV actress Lisa Arrindell) -- the milder her cavalier attitude toward Lisa's fate becomes by comparison.
It's all barefaced melodrama housed in a framework of mixed messages that have become Perry's stock in trade. He abhors spousal abuse, but he dearly loves it when employed in reverse as revenge -- in this case, involving scalding grits and the use of a "well-balanced" frying pan." (Some bludgeoned, grits-encrusted man may well launch a successful lawsuit against him one day.) Similarly, he's apparently a proponent of beating the living daylights out of a child as a form of discipline -- never stopping for a moment to consider that there might be some connection between children learning that the price of disobedience is a beating and men who keep their wives "in line" by slapping them around.
But then Perry is a shameless panderer who will do whatever he thinks his audience wants without regard to any actual thought. Consider, for example, that Cicely Tyson's Big Speech about black self-respect and the evils of young women trading on their sexual allure comes right on the tail (so to speak) of a scene where Joe and a bunch of other leering old gents keep getting a pretty girl in skimpy shorts to bend over for them. Who's kidding whom here?
Perry's big "family values" pose constantly rings false, condescending and reactionary. Apparently, we're supposed to cut him slack for his artistic shortcomings because his heart is theoretically "in the right place," which is perhaps true. That is, assuming the right place is his bank account. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, domestic violence, sex and drug references.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke