“Madea Goes to Jail”

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, drug content, some violence and sexual situations.

Actor, writer, director and producer Tyler Perry does not fool me. I know perfectly well what he is doing. He makes his comedies primarily for the African-American audience and he makes buckets of money doing it. His scripts are pretty much rough comedy sketches stitched together haphazardly. His characters are heavy on lowbrow black stereotypes. And his films are a bit “bumpy.”

Indeed, the tempo of this film goes from outrageous comedy to soap opera melodrama — then back and forth and back and forth again … until you begin to wonder if you are seeing two movies at once. All of this is true … but his real mission is to deliver a secret, almost subliminal message. And, right here, in this review, I am going to expose, in my opinion, his real motive: Tyler Perry is trying to peddle his brand of Christian forgiveness in a time when hell, damnation, and other Old Testament hits seem to be more in fashion. And another thing: The Gospel according to Tyler Perry also holds that people have free will and “playing the victim” is a loser’s game. What a pulpit this guy has!

Tyler Perry knows the comedic power of a man playing a woman. And when the actor is over six and a half feet tall, and ugly in drag, the joke works even better. And when his Madea gets mad and commences to cuss folks out, it is wicked fun. Madea (Tyler Perry), in case you don’t know, is an ex-oversized stripper. She lives with her pot-smoking, potty-mouthed, ne’r-do-well, always-dishing-out-the-insults brother, Joe (Tyler Perry). Her nephew-lawyer, Brian (Tyler Perry) has had to get Madea out of scrapes with the law more than too many times. She is given yet another break when the police fail to read her her Miranda rights. (They were too busy getting beaten up by this geriatric terror.) However, she is sentenced (by TV’s Judge Mablean Ephraim) to take an anger management class. When she goes home from court she discovers her house is filled with disreputable people invited there by her brother, Joe. Madea reaches for her automatic weapon to clear the crowd. There is no doubt she is heading for trouble. Her anger management coach turns out to be TV’s Dr. Phil. She exasperates Dr. Phil so much, he loses his cool and recommends she gets some real jail time which she gets, eventually, from TV’s Judge Greg Mathis.

Meanwhile two, in-love, district attorneys are planning their wedding (Joshua played by Derek Luke, and Lynda, played by Ion Overman). Things get hinky when Joshua’s childhood to college gal pal shows up. She has become a prostitute and drug addict and he gets all Good Samaritany and tries to save her. This displeases Lynda, who plots a way to rid herself of this unlikely rival. She (Lynda) is able to get Joshua’s (prostitute pal) sent to jail. There, the old gal-pal meets up with our madcap heroine, Madea.

This romantic soap opera stuff is really just filler. The film comes alive when Madea comes on screen. But, nonetheless, the stuff in between the Madea scenes is saturated with the Christian forgiveness theme. (Not that I am complaining; I’m just observing.)

Now here is some more candid truth: Critics are taken aback by the “slicklessness” of the Madea films. Perry’s films are really astoundingly cheesy, not to say obvious, even clumsy. But Madea is a brilliant comic character. Nobody does it — or has done it — better than Tyler Perry. For example, the exchange between Madea and Dr. Phil is a comic gem, the highlight of the film, really. Once seen, Madea will never be forgotten. It is a pity that the Madea films are, by and large, ignored by non-black audiences.

But regardless of the bad and good of “Madea Goes to Jail,” the message is as subtle as a tsunami. Madea may be naughty, but Tyler Perry uses his new film studio to preach an earthy form of Christian morality…Tyler Perry is all “New Testament.”

I got your number, Tyler Perry. You may fool a lot of people with your jokes, but I see what is really beneath that dress of your Madea. God bless her.

“Madea Goes to Jail” earns three and a half bow ties out of five.

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