Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls

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This review was written for the theatrical release of "Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls."

There are no cross-dressing characters cartoonishly berating family members in Lionsgate's valentine to the nation, "Daddy's Little Girls." Surprisingly, writer-director-producer Tyler Perry, who blitzed boxoffices with the 2005 hit "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" (which he did not direct) and the following year's "Madea's Family Reunion" (which he did), takes no acting role at all this time -- not even his trademark matriarch, Madea.

It's a good decision, as the filmmaker's ambitious screenplay depicts a saintly single father's struggle to keep his three daughters away from his ex-wife's drug dealer boyfriend, and the upscale, self-centered career woman who enters his life. "Daddy's Little Girls" may be heavy-handed and drearily predictable, but it also should connect with its core audience as solidly as Perry's previous efforts did, even if the drama is frequently just as over the top as its predecessors.

When garage mechanic Monty (England's Idris Elba) is faced with finding a new caretaker for his three preteen daughters (one of who has more than enough back-talking sass for all three), he takes another job as a chauffeur for attorney Julia (Gabrielle Union). Her two best friends, Cynthia (Tracee Ellis Ross) and Brenda (Terri J. Vaughn), are relentless in their stinging criticism of the attractive Julia's lack of a personal life. But she is proud of her accomplishments and seems to revel in her own imperious demeanor.

The melodrama really kicks in with the girls (real-life sisters Sierra, Lauryn and China McClain) being court-ordered to reside with their unsavory mother, Jennifer (Tasha Smith, oddly operatic yet convincingly scary). Jennifer resides across town with gangster/drug dealer Joseph (Gary Sturgis) and his goons. The girls are more than just miserable: They are slapped around and encouraged to dabble in sex and drugs not by Joseph but by Mom! Warning for moviegoers: There are moments when unexpected titters might erupt in the theater.

Monty frets, Julia insults, Jennifer taunts, Joseph threatens, and one drunken night the haughty lady lawyer gets cozy with the hunky hero mechanic. But with Monty's children in ever greater danger, the situation escalates into vigilante territory.

Louis Gossett Jr. has a small role as the garage owner, and Malinda Williams is perky but similarly wasted as Julia's secretary and Monty's neighbor. The movie was shot on location in Atlanta, partly at the filmmaker's new production facility, and the music score is by Brian McKnight, supplemented by R&B artists on the soundtrack.

Perry's script -- his first not to be based on one of his plays -- tries to dispel the stereotype of the absent black father, but Monty's nobility and frustration are encased in a story that is once again notably lacking in subtleties. Considering that Lionsgate might continue releasing an overbaked Tyler Perry opus each February for some time to come, we can be thankful that his films are now at least aspiring to resemble a version of real life.

TYLER PERRY'S DADDY'S LITTLE GIRLS
Lionsgate
Credits:
Director-writer: Tyler Perry
Producers: Tyler Perry, Reuben Cannon
Executive Producer: Michael Paseornek
Director of Photography: Toyomichi Kurita
Production Designer: Ina Mayhew
Editor: Maysie Hoy
Costume Designer: Keith G. Lewis
Music: Brian McKnight
Cast:
Julia: Gabrielle Union
Monty: Idris Elba
Willie: Louis Gossett Jr.
Jennifer: Tasha Smith
Joseph: Gary Sturgis
Cynthia: Tracee Ellis Ross
Maya: Malinda Williams
Brenda: Terri J. Vaughn
Rita: Cassi Davis
Sierra: Sierra McClain
Lauryn: Lauryn McClain
China: China McClain
Running time -- 95 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13

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