Film Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Tyler Perry’s Back in Drag for Another Modern Morality Play
Tyler Perry is a master at making modern morality plays which address an array of concerns of the African-American community. What makes his films feel so authentic is that his characters invariably reflect black culture in a manner which is instantly recognizable and thus effortlessly resonates with the audience as real. Another plus is Perry’s knowing how to mix-in plenty of comic relief without diluting the power of the sobering message he’s trying to deliver.
Loosely-based on the stage production of the same name, Madea Goes to Jail just might be Tyler Perry’s best endeavor to date. The film stars Tyler, back in drag, as the sassy, pistol-packing Mable “Madea” Simmons, heading a talented ensemble which includes Viola Davis, Derek Luke, Ion Overman, Keisha Knight Pulliam and David and Tamela J. Mann.
The cast also features an incredible number of celebrity cameos, most notably, Dr. Phil, and TV Judges Greg Mathis and Mablean Ephriam, not to mention Reverend Al Sharpton, comedian Steve Harvey, DJs Tom Joyner and Michael Baisden, CNN news anchor Tony Harris, and The View talk show hosts Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Sherri Shepherd and Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Fortunately, balancing all the egos never gets in the way of making a hilarious flick, for the finished product is a rollicking roller coaster that ought to be fun for the whole family.
At the point of departure, we find Madea in front of Judge Mablean who lets the hell-raising granny off with a slap on the wrist and a stern warning for leading police on a high-speed freeway chase. Instead of landing behind bars, she is ordered to undergo treatment for anger management with Dr. Phil. While on the coach, she and the shrink engage in a hilarious exchange reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s classic “Who’s on First?”
Needless to say, the therapy doesn’t work, and Madea goes berserk again when a customer steals her parking spot at the mall. After wrecking the woman’s car with a forklift, Madea is arrested again but ends up this time in front of a very incensed Judge Mathis who decides to teach her a lesson with a sentence of 5-10 years.
Meanwhile, there’s a whole parallel plot unfolding involving Assistant District Attorney Joshua Hardaway (Luke) who is engaged to Linda (Overman), a bourgie colleague who doesn’t understand why he might care about rehabilitating Candy (Pulliam), a former girlfriend who has turned to streetwalking. With the help of a prison minister (Davis), Josh does his best to get his ex the help she needs anyway, a decision which destabilizes his once solid relationship. Everything comes to a head when Madea and Candy cross paths in a correctional facility, leading to tidy resolution which not only ties loose ends but elicits a few tears.
Remember to stay for the closing credits, for some bonus badinage between Madea and Dr. Phil.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual situations, mature themes and drug use.
Running time: 103 minutes
Studio: Lions Gate Films