Madea Goes to Jail -- DVD Review

The Tyler Perry Experience continues with "Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail," which delivers what Perry's mostly black and female audience wants: soap opera and broad comedy leavened with a Christian evangelical message. For all its staleness, the melodramatic main story does contain enough good acting and resonant scenes to indicate that Perry -- the film's star (in multiple roles), writer, director and producer -- probably could deliver so much more if either he or his following pushes Perry in that direction.

As it stands, "Madea Goes to Jail" will play to an audience that Hollywood mostly neglects but has made Perry a wildly successful media hits-man. He certainly knows how to entertain and deliver laughs.

The film's melodrama has an almost Victorian ring. A fast-rising assistant D.A., Joshua (Derek Luke), is thrown a case that involves a childhood friend, Candace (Keshia Knight Pulliam), who has become an addict and streetwalker. His fiancee and fellow assistant D.A., Linda (Ion Overman), doesn't understand his sudden concern for getting Candace off the streets.

It somehow never occurs to Joshua to sit Linda down and explain the role he played, no matter how inadvertent, in changing Candace's life so drastically. Yet his concern for the woman becomes a major stumbling block in the couple's impending nuptials.

Meanwhile, in a totally different universe, Madea, a crude caricature of a black woman played by Perry himself -- who thus makes her looks like a New York Giants offensive lineman -- is a one-woman all-points police bulletin. She can't leave home -- populated by other characters played by Perry -- without getting into dust-ups with the law.

Perry introduced Madea in stage plays before the character starred in his 2005 feature debut "Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman." There followed roles in two more films before this "comeback." Would she had stayed away.

Madea doesn't simply run afoul of the law, she messes up the movie. One is supposed to buy the country wisdom she dispenses in a loud voice, but it comes amid such pig-headedness and contempt for everyone else that you can't take it seriously.

The two plots converge when both female lawbreakers end up in prison late in the film. By this time Perry, as screenwriter, has unnecessarily turned the fiancee into the film's villain, which does allow for an easy solution to all the film's problems, as if drugs and prostitution can be so easily resolved.

It's hard to call a man who performs so many jobs on a set lazy, but this is a lazy film. Its comedy is from the do-anything-for-a-laugh school, without even the polish of the Three Stooges, and the melodrama evolves from rote characters and cliched situations. But with Perry now benefiting from establishment approval -- Dr. Phil, Al Sharpton and Whoopi Goldberg put in cameo appearances -- it will be hard for him to deviate in the future from a successful formula.
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