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Where’s Madea when you need her?
As annoying as Tyler Perry’s outrageous drag character is, she would have given some much needed life to the multi-hyphenate filmmaker’s latest exercise, titled in his usual modest fashion. This soapy effort about a prosperous businessman having a midlife crisis finds Perry working in the heavily melodramatic mode that marks his weakest efforts. Although he’ll no doubt find his usual audience for this latest in his reliable string of midwinter releases, Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds is most notable for the filmmaker’s atypically buttoned-down performance.
Looking distinctly uncomfortable in suit and tie, Perry plays the punningly titled Wesley Deeds, who informs us in the opening voiceover that he’s the fifth generation of Ivy League-educated men in his family. Although he runs a wildly successful computer software company and seems to have it all, including a beautiful fiancée (Gabrielle Union), Wesley — judging by the inordinate amount of time he spends soaking in his brick-lined shower — is clearly unhappy.
But not as unhappy as Lindsey (Thandie Newton), a night janitor in his employ, who’s struggling with raising her adorable young daughter alone while poverty-stricken and homeless. Needless to say, the two meet cute, when she parks in his reserved spot and he almost has her car towed away. But before long they’re engaged in a wary friendship with predictably life-changing results.
As usual in Perry’s films, the characters are strictly one-dimensional — at least, until they’re not. Wesley is so uptight that he only knows Tupac Shakur as “that rapper guy,” until, under Lindsey’s tutelage, he starts riding a motorcycle and wearing a leather coat. Lindsey, perhaps the most beautiful janitor in the history of janitors, is unrelentingly nasty and abusive towards everyone around her, until she turns out to be just a softie underneath.
The supporting characters are equally predictable. Wesley’s mother Wilimena (played by Mrs. Huxtable herself, Phylicia Rashad) is the sort of steely matriarch who makes Mary Tyler Moore’s character in Ordinary People seem warm and fuzzy. And his irresponsible brother Walt (Brian White) is a sullen black sheep who lashes out angrily at everyone, especially Wilimena, who asks him, in one example of the generally risible dialogue, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?”
Just to drive home the point that the major characters are all stuck with each other, at one point they find themselves literally trapped in an elevator.
Also heavy-handed are the oppressive musical score which signals exactly what we’re supposed to be feeling at any given point and the endless series of establishing shots — hey look, there’s Alcatraz! — of the San Francisco setting.
Opened: Feb. 24 (Lionsgate)
Production: Lionsgate, Tyler Perry Studios
Cast: Tyler Perry, Thandie Newton, Brian White, Rebecca Romijn, Jamie Kennedy, Eddie Cibrian, Jordenn Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Gabrielle Union
Director/screenwriter: Tyler Perry
Producers: Tyler Perry, Ozzie Areu, Paul Hall
Executive producers: Joseph P. Genier, Michael Paseornek
Director of photography: Alexander Gruszynski
Production designer: Ina Mayhew
Editor: Maysie Hoy
Costume designer: Johnetta Boone
Music: Aaron Zigman
Rated PG-13, 111 minutes
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