I’ve never understood the perception that Martin Lawrence is funny, just as I’ve never understood the notion that he’s an appealing personality. I will admit that I found him somewhat less obnoxious in his family-friendly incarnation in Rebound (2005). I noted at the time that in Rebound Lawrence “actually does something that could almost be taken for acting.” Here we have Lawrence trying to straddle the worlds of raunchy and family-friendly. It’s not pretty.
The results resemble nothing so much as a bastard child who crosses the worst of Tyler Perry’s “old-fashioned values” preachiness (minus the religious stuff) with the leering crudity of the standard Martin Lawrence vehicle. The combination is, if anything, broader, more dubious and far more mean-spirited than either alone. This could possibly be an accomplishment of some sort.
The Madea’s Family Reunion-inspired plot offers us Lawrence as loudmouthed L.A. talk-show host “Dr.” R. J. Stevens, who, in reality, is Roscoe Steven Jenkins from the deepest recesses of the rural South—with every cliché that implies. Unbeknownst to him, Roscoe’s gold-digging faux-celebrity girlfriend, Bianca (Joy Bryant, Bobby), is keen on dragging him and his neglected son, Jamal (Damani Roberts, You, Me and Dupree), to Roscoe’s hometown for the 50th wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins (James Earl Jones and Margaret Avery). It’s not that Bianca has any sentimental reasons, mind you, but rather sees this as a great publicity stunt to be recorded for Roscoe’s show.
Once the film gets to Georgia—following some lame humiliate-Martin-Lawrence shtick—we’re propelled into a flurry of clichés and idiotic stereotypes that are supposed to pass muster as comedy. It starts to look pretty bleak when the first person we encounter is Mike Epps as Roscoe’s cousin, Reggie, a “lovable” con man with the libido and maturity of a 14-year-old boy who just discovered Playboy. Epps is a talented guy, and can be funny and appealing, but not here. It gets worse. Enter Mo’Nique as Roscoe’s grotesquely caricatured sister Betty, who does such sidesplitting things as constantly calling Bianca “Blanca” or “Binaca,” while reveling in each and every humiliation visited on her brother. She also lusts after her first cousin Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer), and eventually beats the crap out of Roscoe. OK, so seeing Martin Lawrence get beaten up by a woman has its amusing side, but since the woman in question is so unpleasant and unlikable, it’s hard to know who to root for.
Then there’s Michael Clarke Duncan as Roscoe’s brother Otis—a muscle-bound, seemingly steroid-happy sheriff with an equally imposing family. Yes, he too will punch the crap out of Roscoe before it’s over. And there’s Roscoe’s old crush, Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker, King’s Ransom), who is, of course, everything Bianca isn’t. No prizes for guessing what happens between Roscoe and Lucinda, but it’s all remarkably unpersuasive, since it’s hard to imagine her giving Roscoe the time of day.
At the same time, we mustn’t overlook the long-standing rivalry between Roscoe and Clyde, or the estrangement of Roscoe and his parents, or the impending estrangement of Roscoe and his own son. As if this isn’t enough, the film tosses in at least four gags predicated on the hilarity of a Pomeranian having sex with a Labrador retriever. One doggie sex joke is one too many. Four should warrant jail time.
All this is wrapped up in a bunch of “family-values” home “truths” (including the idea that it’s just swell to have fathers beat their children with a belt and a nod to Tyler Perry’s scalding-grits-in-the-face as a cure for bad husbands). And the movie drags on and on and on for a punishing 114 minutes. The sad part about all this is that writer-director Malcolm D. Lee is a talented man, but you’d never guess that this round. As a side note: It should be said that the film pushes the envelope of PG-13 to a point where the rating is meaningless. Roscoe Jenkins is one long parade of crass and crude sex jokes mixed with such time-honored touches as rampant violence and flatulence. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language and some drug references.