Thursday, February 26, 2009


They call her Mabel Simmons, but everybody knows her as Madea. This elderly but agile, six-foot-five, African-American matriarch can whip her own weight in cops. She can mangle Biblical scripture, but still make her points. Atlanta-based filmmaker Tyler Perry has now helmed three theatrical features about this short-tempered, bespectacled, gray-haired grandma who packs an automatic pistol in her purse and isn’t afraid to use it. In Perry’s latest comedy “Madea Goes to Jail” (**** out of ****), an impatient young woman in a red convertible swerves past Madea’s Cadillac as our heroine cruises through her local Big K in search of a parking space. Madea has her sights set on a space near the front doors. Before Madea can pull into it, the red convertible woman cuts her off and parks in the space. Madea harangues the woman for stealing her space. Ignoring Madea, the woman saunters off into the store. An angry Madea commandeers a nearby fork lift and hoists the woman’s convertible out of her parking space! When the shocked woman scrambles into the parking lot screaming at Madea to put her car down, Madea obliges her cheerfully. No sooner has Madea dropped the convertible than the woman uses her cell phone to call her police husband to come haul off Jemima the Hun!

Anybody who has seen “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” “Madea’s Family Reunion,” and/or “Meet the Browns” knows that writer, producer, director Tyler Perry makes people laugh harder and longer impersonating an angry black woman than Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence put together. The matronly Madea ranks as one of the most maniacal comic characters you’ll ever see, and her seismic slapstick shenanigans in “Madea Goes to Jail” register like an epic earthquake on the Richter scale. We learn at the outset that Madea has bounced checks, stolen identities, worked as a stripper to feed her family, and drives without a license. She refuses to admit that she has ever flown into a rage and she doesn’t like people touching her. Meanwhile, when Tyler isn’t playing Madea, he plays Madea’s beleaguered thirty-something attorney son Brian and Madea’s crotchety old coot of a husband Joe who smokes pot while he is hooked up to an oxygen machine. The antics of this dysfunctional family will keep you guffawing until your sides split, but Perry doesn’t make “Madea Goes to Jail” one long laugh after another. Moreover, he doesn’t utilize Madea strictly for comic relief. Indeed, he uses everybody’s favorite matriarch to make some heavyweight philosophical points.

Perry alternates between Madea’s pratfalls and the predicament of a drug-addicted young woman with a history of abuse who has been arrested for prostitution. Atlanta District Attorney Joshua Hardaway (Derek Luke of “Biker Boyz”) has the world by the coattails. Joshua has a great job, good friends, and a pampered princess of a fiancĂ©, Assistant District Attorney Linda (Ion Overman), who boasts an 89 percent conviction rate. Joshua is about to prosecute the case against Candy (“The Cosby Show’s” Keshia Knight Pulliam) until he recognizes her as a childhood friend. Excusing himself, Joshua turns the case over to Linda. Joshua is clearly shaken by the appearance of his old friend, and he helps Candy make bail. Afterward, he introduces the defiant Candy to a tough-love minister, Ellen (Viola Davis of “Doubt”), who runs interference for prostitutes in the red light district and tries to rescue them. Candy turns her nose up to Ellen. Meanwhile, Linda isn’t happy about her new competition, especially when Joshua rescues Candy after an abusive pimp that beats her. Joshua reassures Linda that he doesn’t love Candy. Nevertheless, every time Linda turns around, Candy shows up at Joshua’s apartment. Linda tampers with the evidence in Candy’s case, and the judge sentences Candy to a 17-year stretch in prison. At the same time, Linda turns her wrath on Madea who hasn’t done a day in jail. The judge (real-life Judge Matthias) lowers the gavel on Madea. He sentences Madea to five to ten years because of the convertible incident.

When Tyler Perry isn’t making madcap Madea movies, he has been sharpening his skill with melodramas, such as “Why Did I Get Married” and “The Family That Preys,” that bristle with histrionics galore. Typically, proud villains flaunt the upper hand for the first half of these yarns. During the second half, however, the meek triumph over the proud. Half of the fun of watching “The Family That Preys,” “Why Did I Get Married,” and even “Madea Goes to Jail” is savoring the success of the meek over the proud. Perry likes to bring the bad to their knees the same way that Madea unloads that red convertible with a crash in the Big K parking lot. You’ll see more than enough of this in “Madea Goes to Jail.” The villains—especially haughty Linda—make you want to shadow box with their screen images while sympathetic individuals like Joshua make you want to embrace them. Anytime a movie can make you laugh, cry, and then laugh again, you know you’ve found something worth watching. “Madea Goes to Jail” makes you laugh, cry, and laugh again and you don’t have to be African-American to enjoy it. Perry concludes this cataclysmic comedy on a high note as Madea winds up having to attend another anger management session with Dr. Phil. Dr. Phil may never be the same after this movie. Incidentally, the theatrical version of Tyler Perry’s “Madea Goes to Jail” differs substantially from the 2006 video release “Madea Goes to Jail.” The two are alike only because they share the same title and title character. Realistically, "Madea Goes to Jail" should have been retitled "Madea Goes to Prison."

No comments: