Tyler Perry's the Family That Preys



Opened: Friday, Sept. 12 (Lionsgate)

The same day that "The Women" hit theaters, another movie about female friendship and rivalry arrived that might give it a run for its money.

Although there are men in "Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys," the juiciest action belongs to the women. Perry's movies are never critics' darlings, and this one was not even screened in advance. But it's a lot livelier than that other ladies' slumber party, and it should do strong business with Perry's regular audience and maybe a few newcomers as well.

For the first time, Perry has included important white characters in his tapestry, of which the focus is on two families. Charlotte (Kathy Bates) is the matriarch and CEO of a successful construction business that her duplicitous son (Cole Hauser) operates. Charlotte's best friend, Alice (Alfre Woodard), runs a diner and has two daughters (Sanaa Lathan, Taraji P. Henson). Lathan is a rising executive who is having an affair with Hauser while her oblivious husband (Rockmond Dunbar) dreams of starting his own construction company.

Soon, both families are involved in corporate intrigue as well as sexual dalliances, with a bit of early-onset Alzheimer's thrown in for good measure. Although this interracial "Dynasty" isn't always believable -- it's a stretch to accept the lifelong friendship of the two matriarchs as well as the last-minute business coup that they engineer -- there's plenty of action to keep us engrossed. Perry wears his religious faith lightly (Alice is a devout Christian) and is shrewd enough to balance piety with raucous humor and lots of sinful shenanigans. Perry's filmmaking skills have improved to the level of competence, and he has assembled a dream cast.

Woodard conveys the rock-solid values of a true Christian without ever falling into sappiness. Bates is enjoyably larger-than-life, as the role requires. Although their cross-country journey sometimes plays like a travelogue, the actresses clearly relish their collaboration. Lathan and Robin Givens as rival executives bring energy to their catfights. Hauser makes a hissable villain.

In more sympathetic roles, Henson, Dunbar and Perry give smooth performances (even if Dunbar is stuck playing one of the most clueless cuckolds in film history). Exterior footage of New Orleans and the Grand Canyon is perfunctory; Tyler does better with interior scenes like an unlikely excursion to a country-Western bar. Throughout the film, the music is a major asset.

Critics might carp, but it's hard to resist the movie's mixture of soap opera, humor and heart-filled homilies.

Production: Tyler Perry Studios, Reuben Cannon Prods.
Cast: Alfre Woodard, Kathy Bates, Sanaa Lathan, Rockmond Dunbar, Kadee Strickland, Cole Hauser, Taraji P. Henson, Robin Givens.
Director-screenwriter: Tyler Perry.
Producers: Tyler Perry, Reuben Cannon. Rated PG-13, 110 minutes.
Director of photography: Toyomichi Kurita.
Production designer: Ina Mayhew.
Music: Aaron Zigman.
Costume designer: Keith G. Lewis.
Editor: Maysie Hoy.