Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail

Movie Information

The Story: Tyler Perry's signature character goes to the pokey -- after an hour-plus of setup -- and says sassy things. The Lowdown: Fans looking for more Perry-esque melodrama and a fair-sized dose of Madea humor will find it. No one else need bother.
Score:

Genre: Comedy/Melodrama
Director: Tyler Perry
Starring: Tyler Perry, Derek Luke, Keshia Knight Pulliam, David Mann, Tamela J. Mann, Viola Davis
Rated: PG-13

As I was watching Tyler Perry’s latest movie, Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail, my co-critic Justin Souther came into the theater and sat with me for a while. A little way into the proceedings a character entered the film and Justin asked, “Is that Tyler Perry, too?” Without thinking, I said that it was: “That’s him in his ‘Brian the lawyer’ incarnation.” At that moment, I realized that like some soap-opera fan, I actually know all of Perry’s recurring characters and their relationships to each other. And I was deeply frightened by that. The world of Tyler Perry has—after sitting through seven Perry movies—percolated into my brain. It’s clearly a case of an occupational hazard, me going for best of two falls out of three with a cultural icon—and losing.

There’s no denying that Perry is a cultural icon, regardless of how you feel about his work. Similarly—apart from wanting to argue the point—Mr. Perry’s admirers could not conceivably care less what I have to say about the man or his work or his latest film. They know what they’re getting—they ought to, since this is another case of Perry filming one of his plays that’s already available in recorded form on DVD. (Based on character names, however, it appears that the film departs considerably from the earlier play version.) They know that Perry is going to do his Madea drag act and that it will be in support of some worthy message wrapped in a melodramatic story. The bad guys—and gals—will be of the mustache-twirling variety. The comedy will be extremely broad. Virtue will be rewarded and God will be name-dropped. And if that’s what you’re looking for, Madea Goes to Jail will not disappoint you.

This latest offering is a definite step backwards for Perry as a filmmaker. Both of his 2008 releases, Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns and, especially, Tyler Perry’s the Family That Preys, were much more sophisticated as filmmaking, but they also showed a definite falling off at the box office. Meet the Browns was a cheat, in that it promised more Madea than it delivered (its ending is a kind of built-in trailer for this film). The Family That Preys only offered Perry in a bad wig (bad wigs are almost trademark) as a character other than the ones he’s known for. As a result, it became his second least successful film (and his most expensively produced), only pulling in about five million more than Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls (2007). (Factoring in the budgets, Daddy’s Little Girls actually netted more.) It’s hardly surprising that he’d head back to Madea-land, since his biggest grosser was Madea’s Family Reunion (2006). And Perry is nothing if not a businessman—the borrowed locations, constant Coca-Cola product placements and threadbare budgets attest to that.

What we have here is a ridiculous melodrama about an assistant district attorney (Derek Luke), who’s all set to marry another assistant district attorney (TV actress Ion Overman), until he runs into an old friend (Keshia Knight Pulliam in an ill-fitting red wig) who’s been arrested for prostitution. The meeting provokes a crise de conscience on his part (there’s much talk about “what happened that night”) that causes him to want to help her—much to the distaste of his upscale (and patently no-good) fiancée. True feelings emerge and duplicity ensues.

While all this is going on, there’s an unrelated plot involving Madea, her dope-smoking hedonistic brother Joe (Perry in the usual high-school drama department old-age makeup), the Browns (David and Tamela J. Mann) and Brian (Perry), who tries vainly to keep Madea from a well-deserved stint in the big house. After more than an hour of this has passed, we finally get to Madea—and, of course, the wrongfully railroaded prostitute—in jail. Predictability follows.

It’s all hokey and ham-fisted, cheaply made and appallingly edited. Even good actors like Derek Luke and Viola Davis (Doubt) are at a loss to get past the improbable dialogue and the even more improbable characters they’ve been handed. In the meantime, Perry mugs and chews the scenery, while the ever-annoying David Mann mangles the English language and wears ugly clothes. (One of the few times I laughed came when Madea tells him, “God hates you. You were grown in a Petri dish.”) To goose things, Perry has roped in everyone from Dr. Phil to Whoopi Goldberg to Al Sharpton for cameo appearances. In all fairness, the double-talk routine with Dr. Phil is one of the movie’s brighter moments—too bad it was in the trailer. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, drug content, some violence and sexual situations.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

12 thoughts on “Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail

  1. Ken Miller

    I value a critic when he tells me what I’d like to know before I see the movie. I don’t care if I agree with the critic or not.

    Having said that, I enjoy the reviews of the Tyler Perry movies. You watch the movies as part of your job, of course, but kudos to you for continuing to write entertaining reviews of these films, even though the movies are not to your liking.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I enjoy the reviews of the Tyler Perry movies. You watch the movies as part of your job, of course, but kudos to you for continuing to write entertaining reviews of these films, even though the movies are not to your liking.

    Thank you. The fact is that I would like to like Perry’s movies. I would like to see Perry expand his filmmaking, his worldview and his dramatic skills — things he started to edge toward in his last two films and which he back away from with this one. Unfortunately, retreating to his usual clunky, broad formula seems to have paid off at the box office, so we can probably expect more of the same.

  3. Mysterylogger

    Critics are horrible and a waste of money and effort. Some think they know what the best is when all they know is what they like.

    Using words to sound edgy and cool and hip, they have no real grasp in the real world. Thats why I never listen to them, never have never will. Especially the local ones that think they know best.

  4. clkwrkred

    Good news for you. Tyler Perry is reported to (finally) be getting tired of doing the Madea character and wants her next movie to be her last by *gasp* killing her off.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Thats why I never listen to them, never have never will.

    One wonders then why you waste your time commenting on them.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Tyler Perry is reported to (finally) be getting tired of doing the Madea character and wants her next movie to be her last by *gasp* killing her off

    This I’ll believe when I see it.

  7. Andrew Leal

    “Using words to sound edgy and cool and hip, they have no real grasp in the real world.”

    Unless your argument is that critics are physically incapable of using their hands to hold objects, I assume you meant they have no grasp “of” the real world. I’m saying this as a former English tutor, not a critic, but it helps to proofread and know one’s prepositions before attacking someone else’s use of words.

    On topic, a friend remarked that Madea is this generation’s answer to Anne Sothern’s Maisie or Jim Varney’s Ernest. The latter also had a GOES TO JAIL entry, after all. Disposable series comedy which fans of the character/performer will like; the rest will abhor it or simply be baffled. Ken makes it very clear in his review that he’s neither addressing nor judging fans. Still, just because you like a comedy series doesn’t mean it’s great or even decent filmmaking (I say this as someone whose shelves contain every Ma and Pa Kettle entry known to man.)

    From my only passing familiarity with the man and his films, Tyler Perry doesn’t strike me as likely to succumb to Reichenbach Falls Syndrome, but as in that particular case, the results are seldom permanent (even less so these days, since he can always do a prequel later).

  8. Ken Hanke

    On topic, a friend remarked that Madea is this generation’s answer to Anne Sothern’s Maisie or Jim Varney’s Ernest.

    Varney, I’d thought of (in fact, I cherish the idea of Madea Scared Stupid), but Ann Sothern’s Maisie never occurred to me. I suppose you could through Glenda Farrell’s Torchy Blane into the mix. Ernest perhaps seems nearer the mark in general because the other series mentioned have production values (mostly by being made during the days of the studio system) far in advance of Ernest and Madea. But there’s a significant difference that puts Madea in another category — that of (yes) Ma and Pa Kettle. More specifically, Ma and Pa Kettle in The Egg and I. An Ernest movie or a Maisie movie gives the viewer (for good or ill) a solid dose of Ernest or Maisie. Madea, on the other hand, is essentially a supporting character in her (?) own movie. Of course, there’s another difference — the Madea movies have an agenda. The others are constructed as simple entertainments, though a case could be made that Ernest has a kind of be nice and accepting theme, but then Ernest movies were mostly aimed at children, and most children’s movies contain same version of that message.

    Still, just because you like a comedy series doesn’t mean it’s great or even decent filmmaking (I say this as someone whose shelves contain every Ma and Pa Kettle entry known to man.)

    OK, I’ll see you and raise you a complete collection of Wheeler and Woolsey — most of which are by no stretch of the imagination what you could call good.

  9. Andrew Leal

    You make me feel like I’m finally going to have to watch the three Lum and Abner flicks I have sitting on DVD.

  10. Ken Hanke

    You make me feel like I’m finally going to have to watch the three Lum and Abner flicks I have sitting on DVD.

    I would never intentionally do that to anyone!

  11. Ken Hanke

    And as if by magic, I chanced on TCM running So This Is Washington with Lum and Abner. Despite the presence (in one scene) of that hatchet-faced goddess of the B picture Minerva Urecal, about 20 minutes was enough for me.

  12. Drum in AVL

    Ken

    Bring back BLACULA. At least blaxploitation used to be fun

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