As expected, the underwhelming box office and critical scorn that greeted last fall’s For Colored Girls finds Tyler Perry back in drag as Madea in Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family, a typical Perrython of Perryisms aimed at the most Perrynacious viewer. This means steaming melodrama, low comedy and a dash of Jesus. It gets bonus points for Loretta Devine’s amazingly sober performance in a sea of hysteria, but loses points for too much of the Browns (Tamela J. Mann and David Mann), and even more points for the presence of Teyana Taylor (Stomp the Yard 2: Homecoming) as the most shrill, obnoxious and singularly unfunny character in the history of Perry’s movies. Perry completists will understand just what an accomplishment that truly is.
The story finds Shirley (Loretta Devine), the long-suffering mother of three fairly awful children, finding that the cancer that was thought defeated has come back. But since she’s good with the Lord, she’s pretty OK with that. Her big desire is to gather all her children around the dinner table and break the news. I’m not real clear how this is supposed to work—“Now that I’ve got you here, I want to tell you I’m dying, and would you pass the cornbread?”—but it hardly matters since she never gets to put the idea into practice.
The problem, you see, is that daughter Kimberly (Shannon Kane, TV’s All My Children) is an uppity, ice-cold snob who barely tolerates her husband, Calvin (Isaiah Mustafa), and can’t stand her family. Well, it’s not hard to understand why she doesn’t like sister Tammy (Natalie Desselle Reid), a screaming shrew with two obnoxious children and a much abused husband, Harold (Rodney Perry). Then again, there’s baby brother Byron (Shad “Bow Wow” Moss), a reformed, fresh-out-of-jail drug dealer with a greedy “baby mama,” Sabrina (the aforementioned Teyana Taylor), and a not-much-better new girlfriend, Renee (Lauren London, I Love You, Beth Cooper), who wants him to go back to dealing. I wouldn’t want to have dinner with these people either.
All that’s left is for dope-smoking Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis, TV’s House of Payne) to call in Madea to set things right. This, of course, is accomplished with typical strong-arm Madea tactics, which don’t entirely payoff, since she blurts out a painfully obvious family secret at the dinner, yet again breaking up the party before Shirley can impart her news. In the midst of all this Brown (Mann) has a prostate-cancer scare and Cora (the other Mann) learns something about her parentage. Perry does a little schtick as Joe, but it’s mostly Madea’s show—at least when it doesn’t belong to Shirley and her family, which it mostly does. Typically, all problems are solved too easily—except for one question that serves as a cliffhanger for another entry. Now, Perry has claimed he’s over doing Madea movies—and it’s true that there aren’t any on the slate—but that doesn’t exactly fit this ending. Maybe I’m just a skeptic.
Overall, this one’s just Perry basic—apart from Loretta Devine—and your fondness for it relies entirely on how you feel about everything that implies. But it’s hard not to notice that this mostly feels like treading water. Rated PG-13 for drug content, language and some mature thematic material.