Dysfunctional “‘Family Reunion’

Posted on 23 Feb 2006 at 9:45pm
By Steve Warren Contributing Film Critic

Bigger budget, directorial control couldn’t salvage Tyler Perry’s sequel



HIT IT WITH A SKILLET: Unstoppable matriarch Madea (Tyler Perry, left) advises her niece Vanessa (Lisa Arrindell Anderson) about keeping a man.

A year ago, few white people had heard of Tyler Perry. But he was well-known to African-Americans. If they hadn’t seen him touring in his plays, they had made him a multi-millionaire by buying the videos of his stage performances.
Then came the movie version of “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” which brought Perry to a larger, multiracial audience. It was successful enough to allow another of his plays to get the big-screen treatment, this time with a bigger budget and the writer-star sitting in the director’s chair.

In “Madea’s Family Reunion,” Perry plays the same three characters: Madea, the feisty, irascible grandmother; Joe, her flatulent, dirty-minded older brother; and Brian, Madea’s successful middle-class son.

Perry’s directing duties seem to have taken away from the time he spends in Madea’s fat suit. Since she’s the heart of the piece, it doesn’t matter that they spent more money on music rights and other trappings. However you dress a body, without a heart, it’s dead.

Perhaps the novelty has worn off, but “Diary” swung wildly between intense melodrama and wacky comedy. “Reunion” lacks Kimberly Elise, who jacked up the drama. And with less Madea, it just isn’t as funny.

The plot is pretty much the same but with Elise’s character divided between two sisters. Lisa (Rochelle Aytes) is the woman who’s mistreated by her man (Blair Underwood as Carlos, a self-described “collector of beautiful things”), while Vanessa (Lisa Arrindell Anderson) is the woman who finally finds a good man (Boris Kodjoe as Frankie) but isn’t sure she can trust him.

Carlos, who beats Lisa frequently, is in league with her mother, Victoria (Lynn Whitfield), a Mommie Dearest if ever there was one. She’s basically selling off her daughter, having depleted her trust fund, for Carlos’ money.

“Women sometimes have to deal with things to be comfortable,” she counsels Lisa, who only tries to escape Carlos at night, while he’s home to catch her and threaten, “I love you to death and I mean that.”

If there weren’t so many long speeches, especially the sermonettes toward the end, there would be room for the subplot about Nikki (Keke Palmer), a troubled child placed in Madea’s foster care by a judge. Madea’s a strict disciplinarian (“I’m from the old school”) who doesn’t spare the rod, so we get the odd message that beating women is wrong but beating children is funny.
There are positive messages, too, more than in the average Sunday service. Between Cicely Tyson’s preaching and Maya Angelou’s inspiring words, Madea spits out wisdom like, “It ain’t what people call you. It’s what you answer to.”

Jenifer Lewis, playing a wedding planner, goes as far over the top as in her TV movies. But in this crowd nobody notices.

Madea is still a great creation, but her creator while he may have more money than God has to realize he can’t do it all alone.

MADEA’S FAMILY REUNION
Director: Tyler Perry
Cast: Tyler Perry, Maya Angelou, Jenifer Lewis and Cicely Tyson
Opens today in wide release
2 hr., 3 min. PG-13

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, February 24, 2006.

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