Directed by: Tyler Perry
Starring: Angela Bassett, Rick Fox, Lance Gross, David Mann, Jenifer Lewis
Tyler Perry is back with another Tyler Perry Production from the Tyler Perry Studios, written, produced and directed by Tyler Perry, adapted from the play by Tyler Perry and entitled—just in case there’s any doubt—Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns. According to the trailer, the movie also purports to feature Mr. Perry in both of his most famous incarnations, Madea and Joe. However, if the prospect of spending 100 minutes with Perry’s signature characters is what is enticing you to go see this movie, be warned: 96 of those minutes are Madea- and Joe-free.
The duo has been shoehorned into the film for what smells suspiciously of promotional purposes only. Their presence has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot. The Perry fan base, however, assures us that the low-speed, O.J.-esque car chase that ends with Madea being carted off by the police is necessary setup for Perry’s in-development 2010 opus, Madea Goes to Jail. This means the unwary viewer has potentially plunked down $8.50 to see what amounts to little more than an extended trailer for a movie that’s two years away. But for the faithful, Tyler Perry can do no wrong. If I’ve learned anything after three years and four Tyler Perry movies, I’ve learned that. Perry’s unique formula that mixes low comedy, dope smoking, spousal abuse, hoary melodrama and sermons on family values and religion is unassailable. And Meet the Browns is just more of the same.
In fact, the film is pretty much the same movie you’ve seen before, where a much-beleaguered woman—in this case, Angela Bassett—learns to let herself love again thanks to the presence of requisite hunky good man. She meets said man, former basketball player Rick Fox, while finding strength through an eccentric and noisy family and God. I suppose a case can be made that the road to self-discovery is a little calmer this round, since no abusive husband in a wheelchair is propelled into a bathtub (see Diary of a Mad Black Woman) or hit in the face with a pot full of boiling grits (see Madea’s Family Reunion). I confess that an early scene with Brenda (Bassett) and her impoverished family huddled around an almost empty box of oatmeal conjured up suspicions of further breakfast-food-based vengeance, but it was not to be.
Regardless, any calmness that the film may claim on the mayhem level is made up for by the screeching performances of Sofia Vergara (Four Brothers), Jenifer Lewis (Madea’s Family Reunion) and David Mann (reprising his stage and video role of Leroy Brown)—all of whom scream virtually every line of dialogue they have in typical Perry-esque fashion. This is supposed to rev up the humor, I think. For me, it tends to engender a desire for Jason Voorhees to show up and put a stop to the whole thing.
It’s doubly grating because it sits next to the actually funny underplaying of Frankie Faison (In Good Company) as the sole sane member of the Brown family. His character, L.B., is in fact the impetus behind the plot, being the one who summons Brenda to the funeral of the father she never knew. He also has the film’s one genuinely funny scene in which he reveals the truth about the late Mr. Brown (the man was a pimp) and all the people in his sphere that the family grew up thinking were respectable (when they were in fact his stable of “hos”). This is the one moment when the movie’s sense of humor really flies—largely thanks to Faison’s completely unforced, even laid-back assessment of the situation as he reveals the truth about every name the family can dredge up. What’s really surprising here is the inclusion of a character from the past named Tommy Lee, who is blandly identified as “a back-door ho.” Perry rarely acknowledges the existence of gays, and when he has (see Why Did I Get Married?), it has been a nasty caricature, so it’s noteworthy that Tommy Lee is presented as no big deal. Is it possible that Perry is ever so slightly maturing?
Actually, it is possible, because there’s other evidence of it. There’s a splendid scene between Angela Bassett and the wonderful Irma P. Hall (The Ladykillers) early in the film that has the ring of truth to it. And there’s a genuinely touching moment between Bassett and Tamela J. Mann (reprising her stage and video role of Cora Brown) where the latter presents Bassett with an envelope of badly needed money. While I could never call Meet the Browns a good movie—it’s too ragged, the usual Perry clichés and cheap melodrama keep tumbling out, and the overall tone is typically shrill—I will say it has moments that suggest Perry might yet make one. Rated PG-13 for drug content, language including sexual references, thematic elements and brief violence.