Monday, July 2, 2012

JIMBO GOES TO THE MOVIES: “Madea’s Witness Protection”

Tyler Perry returns with his umpteenth “Madea” movie…and it’s pretty much everything you’d expect it to be (for better, AND WORSE)

I caught “Madea’s Witness Protection” last weekend, and my immediate reaction after watching the movie was “you know, there’s a pretty good chance I’m actually black.”

A lot of critics have said that Tyler Perry’s movies pander to a largely African American audience, but as far as I’m concerned, the Madea character could be a stand-in for at least 10 or 12 different people in my family. There are certain scenes in the film - hell, even some lines of dialogue - that are practically verbatim transcripts of things that have occurred to me at family get-togethers or cookouts. In that, it’s not so much a peculiar feeling I have that the characters of Madea and Uncle Joe remind me of my relatives, as much as it is this sinking feeling that the characters ARE my relatives.

The giant-assed breakfasts. The perpetual (and mostly empty) threats of violence lobbed seemingly every other sentence. The absolutely staggering number of references to the word “ass” the seem to encase the entire screenplay like bubble wrap. Granted, I have spent almost the entirety of my life in Perry’s stomping grounds of Atlanta , but still; if what’s onscreen is crude stereotyping, then me and my entire extended network of kin are indeed the epitome of made-for-Caucasian-consumption “black entertainment,” too.

There’s a scene in the film where one of Perry’s alter egos believes that his houseguest, played by Eugene Levy, may or may not be his illegitimate lovechild. He starts counting down a list of the old standards: since Levy’s character can’t swim, has a thing for large posteriors and kind of dances a little when he pees (which is definitely a new revelation to me), he assumes that he’s most likely an African-American. It was around that point that I began seriously mulling the possibility that my racial composition is at least half-not white…and since I haven’t actually seen a picture of my supposed biological father over the course of my 26 years on Earth, I’d say that it’s fair game to suspect that all of my Afro-tendencies (the Miles Davis adulation, the fact that I’ve seen every “Shaft” movie twice, that I kind of dance a little when I pee, etc.) are perhaps more than just circumstantial.

Of course, “Madea’s Witness Protection” is a relatively sucky movie, no matter how you slice it. But you know, just because something “sucks” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s “bad.” In fact, I probably enjoyed this movie as a sucky cinematic product more than I did “good” flicks like “Prometheus” and Fincher’s “Dragon Tattoo” by a considerable margin. The thing is, it’s oh-so apparent that Perry is bored with the franchise, and that the entire idea of the character has run its course. I heard the movie was shot in just three months, and it shows: this thing is so formulaic and by-the-numbers that you can almost see the “fold here” flaps on the silver screen.

The “Madea” format plays itself, really. Whereas most of Perry’s earlier films were more or less family melodramas with the Madea character providing comedic relief as buffers in between melancholy plot twists, there’s something of a greater emphasis on the character in this flick. Of course, the movie is still LOADED with family melodrama, centering on a New York family that’s slowly falling apart after a Ponzi scheme and one of Madea’s nephews, who ends up jeopardizing his father’s church after investing in the company that the New York family was a part of. The odds, I know.

Looking for a plot synopsis here? Well, Eugene Levy is a sensitive, reserved accountant that serves as the head of a charity in the northeast. He goes into work one weekend, and is informed that his charity was actually a front for some mafia laundering, so he ends ups traveling to the deep south to avoid getting whacked. And take a wild guess who he ends up staying with. Seriously, you will never, EVER figure this one out. I mean it.

From there, this thing turns into subplot city. You have Eugene Levy working with an attorney (also played by Perry) to exonerate himself from wrongdoing, but while he’s doing that, he’s neglecting his family. His second wife (played by a particularly wooden Denise Richards) is having difficulties finding acceptance from Levy’s daughter from a previous marriage, while their son struggles with the fact that he a.) sucks at baseball and b.) is fat. And from that, we have Lil’ Romeo as one of Madea’s relatives, who made some horrible investments in Levy’s company to help finance his dad’s church, so…well, I guess you can figure out where things go from there.

The big variable in all of this, of course, is Madea, who helps the struggling family grow closer together using some good, old-fashioned Southern techniques - like telling the daughter that her entire family died to make her realize just how important they are to her and assuming a fake identity to funnel money out of a New York bank to save her nephew’s chapel. You know, the basic stuff, really.

The acting in this movie is particularly awful, with only Perry’s characters showing any signs of blood flowing through their veins. Honestly, I can’t recall the last time I saw a screenplay with this many shortcuts taken by the writer - everything is so forced, and characters react and suddenly alter their behavior so quickly that nothing seems even remotely human about the cast. And speaking of the cast, dear lord, the number of wash-ups on display. Tom Arnold, the dad from “American Pie,” that chick from “Starship Troopers,” the mom from “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Really, we’re just one Lou Bega song away from this being empirically a movie set in 1999.

Of course, everything works itself out in the end. The church gets saved, and Eugene manages to avoid a trip to Club Fed and remedy his family woes in the process. Of course, this means Madea and Joe have to continue living off an EBT card (don’t jump to conclusions, that’s actually mentioned in the plot several times) but as we all know - senior citizens living barely above the poverty line is F-U-N-N-Y.

Really, you know what you’re getting into here, and any real review for it would be completely superfluous. Is “Madea’s Witness Protection” a bad movie? Yes, yes it is. Is it really predictable and uninspired? Most definitely. Is it just a little offensive and way too quick to capitalize on humor stemming out of racial tensions? Of course. But is it a funny movie? Well, it got a couple of laughs out of me, so who cares about all of those other complaints?

There’s not a whole lot of passion or fury to Perry’s latest, and there is absolutely nothing here that you wouldn’t expect or haven’t already suspected. It’s a generic offering, with all of the usual detractions, and with it, all of the super-familiar things you enjoyed about the last nine or eight Perry movies, too.

Clearly, “Madea,” as a cinematic offering, just plain sucks. But hey, at least it sucks in a way you can enjoy it, unlike so many other movies this summer…



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