Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All by Myself -- Film Review

Part musical, part love story, part family melodrama, part inspirational treacle, Tyler Perry's latest movie, "I Can Do Bad All by Myself" is something of an unholy mess. Alternately stupefying and entertaining, the film does benefit from a strong cast. Perry has been attracting better actors in his recent movies, and it's fun to see the excellent Taraji P. Henson, as well as Gladys Knight, Mary J. Blige as well as Perry in his Madea persona. His loyal audience will probably be pleased with the movie. It's unlikely that he will win any new converts.

This film is based on one of Perry's plays, and the strength of the movie is that it has a lot of vivid characters you might find in the theater. Henson's April is a nightclub singer living with a married man and shunning any kind of responsibility. When her mother disappears, April is forced to take charge of her niece and two nephews. Although she resists at first, there's not much doubt as to where this plot line is heading.

Another character is the noble Sandino ("CSI: Miami's" Adam Rogriguez), a handyman from Colombia who helps April with the wayward kids. Madea and her wisecracking brother, Joe (both played by Perry), never are really integrated into the main story. Still, Madea's desperate attempt to tell the kids a Bible story -- which somehow weaves together Jesus, Noah, Free Willy and Siegfried and Roy -- is a comic highlight.

As a dramatist, Perry is primitive but sometimes shrewd. As a filmmaker, he's simply primitive. Repeated shots of clouds swirling across the sky are his idea of a cinematic touch. Henson gives a winning performance whether she's playing dissipated or tearful. Brian White as her lover hits the right note of silky menace. Knight and Blige get to perform a couple of rousing musical numbers. Rodriguez is awfully stiff in the role of a plaster saint. The best performance comes from young Hope Olaide Wilson, who plays April's bruised, cynical niece with just the right chip on her shoulder.

The scenes of religious uplift are laid on with a trowel, and the inspirational finale is a big bore. But if you stay around for the end credits, you'll get to see funny outtakes with Perry making a little fun of his own self-importance.

Opened: Friday, Sept. 11 (Lionsgate)
Rated PG-13, 112 minutes