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You’d think by sheer dint of experience that Tyler Perry would be a better filmmaker by now. The prolific multihyphenate media mogul has pumped out an endless array of movies in recent years, but his latest effort ranks as one of his very worst. Marking his latest drag turn as the titular character with impulse control issues, Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas is one holiday gift that should be quickly returned.
The endlessly contrived plot has Madea reluctantly accompanying her niece Eileen (Anna Marie Horsford) to a small town in Alabama after the latter’s schoolteacher daughter Lacey (Tika Sumpter) announces that she won’t be coming home for Christmas. Cue the endless culture clashes, as it turns out that Eileen hasn’t told her racially intolerant mother that she’s actually married to Connor (Eric Lively), a white small-time farmer. Surprised by her mother’s impromptu arrival, she tells her that he’s just a farmhand, a ruse made more difficult by the arrival of his hillbilly parents (Larry the Cable Guy, Kathy Najimy) whom Eileen treats with undisguised hostility.
A major plot element involves the threatened cancellation of the town’s Christmas Jubilee, which has the natives up in arms. Eileen seemingly saves the day when she procures a corporate sponsorship from her old high school beau Oliver (JR Lemon), only to lose her job when it turns out the company providing the funds demands that the event be shorn of any references to Jesus.
Containing Tyler’s usual awkward mixture of comedy and melodrama, the film also features a plotline involving an aggrieved farmer (Chad Michael Murray) who’s had a long-running feud with Connor. But after Eileen rescues him from his burning pickup truck, he undergoes a complete character reversal, one of many afflicting the proceedings.
The film’s true raison d’etre, of course, is to showcase Madea alternately acting out and dispensing malaprop-strewn, no-nonsense advice to everyone within earshot. Here the unfunny set pieces include her viciously haranguing customers while working in a department store and tying up an unruly little girl to a crucifix while minding an elementary school class. An opportunity seems to have been missed when Madea accidentally walks into a Ku Klux Klan meeting; instead of giving the white hood-clad racists a piece of her mind, she instead turns tail and runs away.
The clunky narrative doesn’t ring true for a second, and the hackneyed dialogue is even worse. “Me and his daddy never got much schoolin’,” says the mother of one of Lacey’s students.
Perry does his usual broad shtick as Madea, and the character’s inexplicable popularity is likely to continue. The supporting performances are mainly phoned in — not that the actors had much choice considering the stereotypical nature of their characters. Only the dependable Najimy and Larry the Cable Guy are able to rise above the mediocrity, although the sight of the latter going shirtless is not one that viewers will quickly forget.
Production: Tyler Perry Studios
Cast: Tyler Perry, Kathy Najimy, Larry the Cable Guy, Chad Michael Murray, Anna Maria Horsford, Tika Sumper, Eric Lively, JR Lemon, Alicia Witt, Lisa Whelchel
Director/screenwriter: Tyler Perry
Producers: Tyler Perry, Ozzie Areu, Matt Moore
Director of photography: Alexander Gruszynski
Editor: Maysie Hoy
Production designer: Eloise C. Stammerjohn
Costume designer: Johnetta Boone
Composer: Christopher Young
Rated PG-13, 105 min.
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