Heaven help me, Madea is starting to grow on me. In Tyler Perry´s latest adaptation of one of his innumerable stage productions, his giant, pistol-packing alter ego—who always felt randomly assembled before—has grown here into a larger-than-life force of nature that is genuinely funny.
Madea Goes to Jail would be a lot better, in fact, if it were actually about Madea going to jail—or about Madea at all. But she’s merely a supporting character in a story about young lawyer Josh (Derek Luke) trying to help drug-addicted prostitute Candy (Keshia Knight Pulliam) clean up her life, despite his fiancée Linda (Ion Overman) insisting such lowclass people aren’t worth helping.
Bake some light Christian themes into the crust and you’ve got more or less the same movie Perry has been making all along, with one-dimensional villains, catty women and cringe-inducing melodrama. Linda is, like most of Perry’s villains, not even remotely plausible.
She’s too single-mindedly eeeeevil, an amalgam of selfishness, vanity and condescension. She suits Perry’s purposes, though, which is to give the audience a monster to root against without having to think very hard or ponder a lot of angles.
This tendency toward oversimplification has always been my problem with Perry. But he continues to improve as a comic performer, and here he’s at his loosest and most confident yet. Madea’s ancient brother, Joe (also played by Perry), is an avid marijuana user, and Madea herself is unabashedly disdainful of religion and its practitioners. Somehow Perry gets away with these transgressive jokes, which might offend his target audience if they weren’t already happily in the palm of his hand.
Unfortunately, while bluntness can be effective in comedy, it tends to be counterproductive in drama. That’s why all the business with Josh, Linda and Candy misses the mark. There’s not a real person anywhere in the film—which is fine if you want us to laugh at them, not so much if you want us to cry.
TYLER PERRY’S MADEA GOES TO JAIL
Tyler Perry, Derek Luke, Keshia Knight Pulliam