Tyler Perry, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Derek Luke, Viola Davis, Tamala Mann, David Mann
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
By now, it is firmly established that I am a fan of Tyler Perry.
It's not so much that I regard Perry's films as brilliant cinema. Indeed, they are not. It's simply that I admire and respect Perry as a writer and director for the clarity and commitment he carries through to the finished product.
The truth is, I don't think Perry gives a hoot about film critics. His films seldom screen for the press.
The truth is, as well, that I don't think Perry gives a hoot about breaking box-office records.
Success? I have no doubt that Tyler Perry cares about it.
However, Perry seems very aware that his films are targeted at a specific audience. This audience, in turn, has assured Perry of his artistic and financial success. Perry's "Madea" films, in particular, are modestly budgeted films that have consistently earned back their production budgets along with a nice little profit.
Tyler Perry is to Afro-centered, Christian-themed family films what Eli Roth is to horror...box-office gold, pure and simple.
Tyler Perry's "Madea Goes to Jail" is no exception to the rule.
If you've hated Perry's mother films, rest assured that you will also hate "Madea Goes to Jail."
Even if you've hated his previous films, however, it's hard to deny that Perry is growing as a filmmaker. His artistic stroke used to feel a bit hesitant, as if he wasn't 100% sure of what he was really doing.
These days, Perry is sure of himself.
In "Madea Goes to Jail," the story again centers on Madea and the life lessons she hands out as she finds herself in yet another predicament (Going to jail? DUH!).
The gimmick of Madea being portrayed by Perry in drag remains a gimmick I've never quite understood, but what can I say? It works despite Perry's dips into egocentric directing and celebrity cameos without purpose.
"Madea Goes to Jail" intersects two stories- that of Madea's own experiences in the slammer and the more compelling story of Joshua, an up-and-coming assistant prosecutor (Derek Luke) and his ambitious fiance' (Ion Overman) when Joshua is called to defend a former classmate (Keshia Knight Pulliam) who's now a strung out streetwalker.
If you're familiar with Perry's films, then you already know to expect the set-ups and emotions to be over-the-top. Perry originally wrote the "Madea" films as stage plays, and the hyped up histrionics tend to have a stagey, manufactured feel to them.
Again, if this has always bothered you about Perry's writing it will most assuredly bother you here.
Perry is an acquired taste. Have you acquired it?
Perry has never been hesitant to intertwine the heart tugging with the hilarity, often in the same scenes. The same is true in "Madea Goes to Jail."
One of the best things about Perry, however, is that he seems to consistently attract a cast that gets his vision, gets his words and manages to bring his story to life no matter how histrionic it may be.
Derek Luke is easily one of Hollywood's most underrated actors, and he shines here as the up-and-coming attorney trying to help a friend out while becoming increasingly enlightened about some troubling signs in his own relationship.
Viola Davis, fresh off her Oscar nomination for "Doubt," sparkles in a supporting turn as a former addict who leads her fellow recoverees to Jesus.
Then, of course, there's Perry. Perry created Madea. Putting it bluntly, Perry IS Madea.
Do I get the whole drag thing in a family friendly, Christian-centered film? Not in the least.
Who cares? It works.
The rest of Perry's ensemble cast is solid, and tech credits are solid across the board. Cameos by Dr. Phil and the women from "The View" add nothing to the film, other than creating a momentary distraction that draws away from the actual story.
We get it Perry. You're a success. You have celebrity friends.
Quit flaunting and just make movies.
Still, despite his cinematic moments of narcissism, "Madea Goes to Jail" continues Perry's improvement as a filmmaker and will undoubtedly please his growing legion of fans. Far from flawless, Tyler Perry's "Madea Goes to Jail" is a well-meaning, positive and entertaining film.
Take that Eli Roth!
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic