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Madea goes too far

Movies | Tedious comedy and maudlin melodrama make a jarring film

Issue: "Wealth and poverty," March 14, 2009

Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail tries to smash together slapstick comedy and maudlin melodrama, and the result is slightly jarring.

Perry's mountain of a muumuu-wearing, gun-wielding Madea is back, but now the judge is determined to send her to jail and make her stay there. First, though, she has to endure earnest attempts to save her soul, a court-ordered anger-management session with Dr. Phil, and a woman who has the audacity to drive her convertible into Madea's parking space.

The second storyline is where the film gets its PG-13 rating for thematic material, drugs, sex, and violence. Keshia Knight Pulliam stars as Candace, a hard-bitten prostitute, and Derek Luke as Josh, a lawyer who has a mysterious past with her. He tries to save her, to the huffiness of his fiancée (Ion Overman) and with the help of a preacher (Viola Davis) who answers, "I ain't got time for Jesus" with "Jesus ain't got time for you." The two storylines awkwardly abut when Madea and Candace end up at the same jail.

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Dr. Phil's attempt to rehabilitate Madea devolves into a roustabout where Dr. Phil asks a question and Madea parrots it back. Funny at first but it gets tedious fast-just like the movie itself. Grating minor characters like Madea's giggling serial-killer cellmate don't help. Viola Davis, who earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for a single scene in Doubt, redeems the acting somewhat with her portrayal of grim Christian love.

But most of the morality moments-when Madea tells her fellow prisoners to stop blaming others for their behavior-grate, too. Religion clunks people over the head, whether it's the slapstick brand of Mr. Brown (David Mann) and Cora (Tamela J. Mann) trying to get Madea to church, or Candace's sudden, off-screen rehabilitation. In both the comedy and the melodrama, religion varnishes dysfunction: Madea's brother praises God for a joint of pot. Candace says she has to believe in something, so she believes in God; but then she asks Josh why she couldn't believe in him.

The comedy ends up beating the saccharine in Madea Goes to Jail, but the morality mash-up rings false.

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