Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins

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It's not that you can't go home again -- it's that you do so at the risk of grievous bodily harm. That's one of the heart-warming lessons of "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins," a comedy so broad and frenetic that its characters are one brawl away from being CGI creations. As a runt-turned-celebrity returning to Georgia for a family reunion, Martin Lawrence mugs it up, withstands the abuse and learns that the family that flays together stays together.

Writer-director Malcolm D. Lee's formulaic framework is really an excuse for a group of gifted stand-ups and comic actors to riff on caricatures, and he lets most of them dial it up to 11. As an alternative to the season's tepid romantic comedies, "Roscoe" should find a warm welcome on its opening weekend. The cast's evident delight might be enough for some moviegoers, but with so much talent and so little modulation on offer, audiences subjected to the onslaught could reasonably expect a higher laughs-to-torture ratio.

Lawrence's Roscoe has reinvented himself as RJ Stevens, author of a self-help book, "The Team of Me," and host of a daytime talk show. His "Survivor"-champ fiancee, Bianca (Joy Bryant), views their marriage as a smart merger and his parents' 50th anniversary banquet as a publicity opportunity. Pressured by his stern father (James Earl Jones) and his young son (Damani Roberts), RJ reluctantly makes the trip to Dry Springs for the first time in nine years, Bianca's luggage and lapdog in tow.

Beyond the stony disapproval of his passive-aggressive father and mother (Margaret Avery), Roscoe must contend with his mouthy, take-no-prisoners sister (Mo'Nique), disciplinarian sheriff brother (Michael Clarke Duncan) and two cousins: scheming goofball Reggie (Mike Epps) and smooth manipulator Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer), who was orphaned as a kid and raised by Roscoe's parents.

In the latest unjust one-upmanship in a lifelong rivalry, Clyde's Cadillac dealerships mean more to the family than anything Roscoe has accomplished. Conveniently accompanying Clyde to the reunion even though they're just friends is the lovely Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker), the object of Roscoe's unrequited boyhood affections and as clearly right for him as Bianca is wrong.

It's telling that the funniest part of the film is the end-credits sequence, when the performers calmly improvise monologues for their characters. Amid the slugfests and shouting matches that take up too much of the action, the laughs are relatively few and too often on the order of X-rated canine action. The troupe's considerable insult chemistry could have used more room to breathe rather than shoehorning the raucousness into a predictable love-and-forgiveness message.

It would be one thing if the family's cruelty to Roscoe were a response to his adopting a phony Los Angeles persona, but the movie makes clear that he's been at the receiving end of a lifetime of harsh treatment. He's unappreciated, slapped around and generally dissed -- and then dutifully learns the Importance of Family.

Lee ("The Best Man," "Undercover Brother") has an eye for pop-culture shorthand, and the clash between down-home sweet tea and barbecued pork and West Coast yoga and tofu, however tired, rings true. William Elliott's astute production design and Danielle Hollowell's costumes don't overdo the cultural divide. Two Louisiana towns, Shreveport and Minden, sub nicely for small-town Georgia.

WELCOME HOME ROSCOE JENKINS
Universal
Universal Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment present a Stuber-Parent production
Credits:
Writer-director: Malcolm D. Lee
Producers: Scott Stuber, Mary Parent, Charles Castaldi
Executive producers: Malcolm D. Lee, Timothy M. Bourne, Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum
Director of photography: Greg Gardiner
Music: David Newman
Production designer: William Elliott
Costume designer: Danielle Hollowell
Editors: George Bowers, Paul Millspaugh
Cast:
RJ: Martin Lawrence
Papa Jenkins: James Earl Jones
Mamma Jenkins: Margaret Avery
Bianca Kittles: Joy Bryant
Clyde: Cedric the Entertainer
Marty: Louis C.K.
Otis: Michael Clarke Duncan
Reggie: Mike Epps
Betty: Mo'Nique
Lucinda: Nicole Ari Parker
Jamaal: Damani Roberts
Running time -- 114 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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