Madea’s Family Reunion

It was only one brief year ago that Tyler Perry unleashed his creation, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” on cinemas everywhere. The critics were aghast (including me), box office prognosticators weren’t tracking it, and the media didn’t even know what the picture was. On the Monday after the blockbuster opening weekend, everyone knew Tyler Perry’s name. With a large catalog of stories based on his wildly popular Madea character, the Perry moneymaking machine cranked up to full blast, and a sequel was quickly born.

Many will say that Perry’s movies are review proof, and I can’t disagree. The Madea pictures certainly have a built-in audience prepared to enjoy whatever is served to them, almost to send a larger message to the world at this point. But does that excuse the poor production qualityr The baffling messages Perry spews outr The chaos of 1,000 subplots and themes for his filmsr Perry’s heart might be in the right place (and that’s questionable), but his filmmaking skill doesn’t match the extent of his bluster.

“Family Reunion” is a another story of familial struggle, with “big momma” Madea (Tyler Perry, in one of his three roles) attempting to keep order as her extended family struggles with abusive boyfriends (Blair Underwood), gold-digging mothers (Lynn Whitfield), and wayward lives, all the while looking to raise hell anywhere she can. Overall, “Family Reunion” doesn’t wander far from what the “Mad Black Woman” recipe established: add some uncontrollably broad melodrama, overcook, and serve with plenty of ham.

Taking over the directing reigns finally is Perry, who declined the job on “Mad Black Woman,” even after he wrote, starred, financed, and scored the film. If anybody would know what to do with this material, it’s Perry, and “Madea” plays right to the viewer the only way the auteur knows how to: loudly. The new film is just as comedically aggressive, morally questionable, and awkwardly performed as the last one, only this time Perry can take all the credit for himself. Burdened with his one-dimensional directing style, “Madea” speeds along with all the dramatic tension of bad daytime television. Perry is unable to shed the material’s theatrical roots, pitching every single moment of the film to the rafters. This shapes “Madea” into one extended, brutal soap opera, stacked with mediocre actors in an endless “smell the fart” acting contest (Lynn Whitfield wins), and kills any chance for important messages to be taken seriously.

Much like “Mad Black Woman,” “Madea” takes some deadly serious topics and toys with them in careless ways. Want to end domestic abuser Perry says to fight back, because, you know, that’ll stop him. Of course, because true depth is outside of Perry’s field of vision, Underwood is encouraged to portray his hateful character as Satan incarnate. So much so, that at one point I was eyeing the bottom of the frame for prosthetic hooves. In fact, violence is the answer to almost every crisis facing the characters. Perry pads the material with heaps of religion and faith-based values, yet condones beatings and slapfights for every problem his characters face, singing praises to Jesus along the way. It’s a very dangerous road Perry walks here, especially with such a trusting audience blindly applauding his every move.

“Family Reunion” takes on the importance of responsibility in African-American men, allows everyone in the cast to sit and recite a speech to the camera (including a doozy about slave blood from Cicely Tyson), and gives plenty of screentime to Perry as his wild, bra-free Madea character. Perry is looking to reflect real life struggles with his stories of romantic doom and grits-tossing redemption, but he can’t resist the easy way to enlightenment, no matter how much the film is aching for one single honest moment of human behavior. Perhaps “Madea’s Family Reunion” isn’t meant for that close of an inspection, but I don’t feel it should be given a free ride either just because of good intentions.

Rating: D+