The uneasy peace that has existed lately between the cinema of Tyler Perry and me has been sorely tested by this one. Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas is not the worst film the man has ever made, but it’s probably the most amateurish thing he’s slapped together in years. It looks like it cost a buck and a quarter to make, and the constant barrage of video-generated seasonally themed optical wipes (complete with animated glitter) for scene transitions only make it look cheaper. (It feels like the work of a video geek who just got a new bundle of gimmicky “effects” for his editing program.) There’s a torturously cobbled-together plot that rarely makes good narrative sense, a good deal of unpleasant mean-spiritedness and a startling array of unfunny comedy. When Larry the Cable Guy isn’t the worst thing about your movie (though Larry the Cable Guy sans shirt isn’t something I needed to see), you’re in trouble.
There’s a thoroughly unnecessary sequence at the beginning of the movie with Madea (Mr. Perry, of course) working as a greeter at some high-toned Atlanta department store. The idea of malapropism-mad Madea in this setting is promising, but almost all the gags land with the amusement value of a dead fish. This is all a setup to get Madea to accompany her friend Eileen (TV actress Anna Maria Horsford) to Bucktussle (no kidding), Ala., so said friend can spend Christmas with her daughter, Lacey (TV actress Tika Sumpter). The idea made marginal sense when Madea was going to drive, but makes none whatever when Lacey’s ex-boyfriend, Oliver (TV actor and football player JR Lemon), opts to drive them down in order to deliver a sponsorship contract that will save Bucktussle’s Christmas Jubilee. It doesn’t matter — the point is to get Madea to Alabama where she can try to score laughs by walking into a Klan meeting and other assorted knee-slapping rib-ticklers of a similar nature.
The movie fights with a variety of uninteresting plots — Lacey keeping her marriage to hunky, white farmer Conner (TV and direct-to-video actor Eric Lively) a secret from her mother, Lacey fighting with ill-tempered town bully (Chad Michael Murray), Lacey fighting for her job, Lacey fighting to save the Christmas jubilee, etc. Lacey, as you can see, is very busy. Meanwhile, Madea gets to mangle the Nativity story, trade barbs with Mr. The Cable Guy and crucify a snotty school girl by tying her with Christmas lights to the mystifying 5-foot cross in Lacey’s classroom. Frighteningly — even with Larry pausing to shill for Prilosec (I’m sure they paid for this) — these are the most likable parts of the movie.
Otherwise … well, every time Madea said “Come on, Eileen” to her friend, I was hoping for some Dexy’s Midnight Runners on the soundtrack, but no. We do get to see some “war on Christmas” nonsense mixed in with an anti-corporate message (an interesting combination) before the movie culminates in a typically silly Perry melodrama — and the flattest ending since the evolution of the flounder. Perry’s films have been many things — many of them not good — but this is the first time I’d accuse one of lacking energy. Even the outtakes at the end looked bored. But being a Madea Christmas comedy, it will probably make a mint, and I will be called names for not loving it. Rated PG-13 for sexual references, crude humor and language.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher.