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· 103 minutes
Directed by Tyler Perry
Written by Tyler Perry
· Tyler Perry
· Derek Luke
· Keisha Knight Pulliam
I am one of the few critics in the country who has willfully, gone out of my way to be fair to Tyler Perry. While others could not stand his Madea character, not an unfair judgement really, I stuck it out with Perry and have come to terms with his dress wearing alter-ego. My patience was rewarded with Perry's exceptionally thoughtful, funny and well considered drama Why Did I Get Married. The film was a Woody Allen moment for Perry, an adroit, adult oriented movie of honesty and emotional truth. Best of all, no Madea to blow things sky high with her over the top comic persona.
I had hoped Why Did I Get Married would be a watershed moment for Perry. A moment where he finally corraled his tremendous social conscience and channeled it through characters people could connect with. Instead, Madea was soon back on screen and blowing up everything around her. Madea re-takes the main stage in Madea Goes To Jail and Perry has regressed right back to his sad, unfortunate, Diary of A Mad Black Woman days. That film is one of the more bizarre movies of the last decade, a serious drama about a serious topic and a serious character that gets blown sky high by Perry's insistence on putting on a dress.
Diary Of A Mad Black Woman was about a troubled marriage, an abused woman and how she was able to get out from under all the sadness in her life and come into her own. Kimberly Elise delivers a powerhouse performance as the abused woman and Steve Harris is menacing as the cheating abusive husband. The drama of the relationship is stunningly effective in some scenes, despite the awkward direction of Perry in his first time behind the camera. And then came Madea. Perry's broad comic drag character brought the movie to a dead stop everytime she came on screen and despite her often insightful dialogue, the sight of Perry in the dress was distracting and his flights of brad comic fancy were just too much for the movie to take.
It was like putting a kitchen sink drama and a Jerry Lewis movie in a blender. Ugh. For Madea Goes To Jail Perry has unfortunately pulled the blender out of storage. Madea Goes To Jail tells the disparate stories of Madea getting in ever more increasing lunacy before ending up in prison and tells the story of Josh and Candace (Derek Luke and Keshia Knight Pulliam), college friends whose lives took very different paths after an incident at school. Josh went on to a law degree and a job with the District Attorney's office in Atlanta. Candace ended up on the streets as a prostitute and drug addict. The wounds of their shared trauma are ripped open when Candace is brought before a judge and Josh is the prosecutor.
After passing off the case, Josh pays Candace's bail and offers to help her in any way he can. This upends his relationship with a fellow D.A, Linda played by Ion Overman. Linda has an important secret that pays off the whole plot and ties everything together but by the time it is revealed you won't care. This is Perry's clumsiest scripting yet as he bounces between the comedy and drama in discomfiting fashion before a wrap up that you can predict as if there were an onscreen map attached. Once again the drama is well played. Luke and Keshia Knight Pulliam, yes, Cosby kid Rudi, deliver scenes of real honesty and pain. Unfortunately, they are trampled offscreen by Madea, her daughter Cora (Tamela Mann) and the ever annoying Mr. Brown (David Mann) from Perry's last unfortunate turn Meet The Browns.
I can't believe I have come this far and not mentioned that Oscar nominee Viola Davis is also in Madea Goes To Jail. The wonderful Ms. Davis plays a Church Minister who walks the street handing out free condoms and clean needles to prostitutes and addicts. She's no liberal sap or a saint, Davis plays the kind of character that Perry is exceptional at creating but incapable of exploiting. Her deep social conscience and unending well of caring is remarkably real. She doesn't so much preach as instruct with the help of Jesus as a back up. Perry should make an entire movie with this character and Ms. Davis and no Madea. That would be something. Something far more than the ugly sum of Madea Goes To Jail.
As much as I am down on Madea in this review, I must say that I found the character to be funnier than ever before. Perry has found his comfort in the dress onscreen for the first time. He has her down and knows which way to twist his words to get a laugh. The long off-color backstory of Madea is an unfortunate aside but the wit is quick and the broad jokes and physical humor can't help but make you smile as I did. That said, it is not Madea that doesn't work, it's shoehorning her into this dark, urban drama with Luke and Pulliam that is the problem. It is that comedy/drama blender that is the problem. Even a great filmmaker could not pull of the mixture that Perry attempts here, the best filmmakers would have the good sense not to try.