My friends get very excited for Tyler Perry movies. The idea being that the dramatic sides of his clearly delineated sock and buskin productions are laughably terrible while the comedy sides are legitimately laughable. And I just can’t get myself to understand either claim.
Madea Goes To Jail would be my first attempt to see one with them. To maybe understand from the inside what was happening. It didn’t help. Instead, I had to suffer through hearing them laugh (along with pretty much everyone else, of course) at every repeatedly mangled word from the title character’s mouth. There are episodes of Rugrats where the mispronunciation of a word is integral to the plot that don’t repeat this desperate non-joke as much. Madea is the person you know that doesn’t understand that when you didn’t laugh at his joke the first time, it didn’t mean you didn’t hear it and so continues to repeat it until you are forced to acknowledge that you are aware a joke was made. In that respect, I guess, it’s about the only realistic representation of a human that the character possesses. Not that that’s what Tyler Perry is after, of course. He’d rather she serve as the drop of wish-fulfilling rain in a desert of generic melodrama.
And yet, despite all those stupid words I just managed to string together about this, I find it nearly impossible to articulate the terribleness of Tyler Perry. It’s infuriating enough that the loyal black audience accepts this as good enough for them simply because they can claim it as their own. But to have it then supported semi-ironically by a cultish white audience makes it unfathomable. Instead, it’s easier to recount the things that go right. In this case, that would include Derek Luke and Viola Davis somehow managing to deliver the same rote lines as everyone else with a surprising level of quality, Tyler Perry finally figuring out how to act with his own costumed personage in a scene (which amounts to being dismissively confused) and an awkward but ultimately realistically compromised approach to addressing the conveniently observed presence of religion in the characters’ lives. (And in case you wouldn’t know Jesus if he wasn’t currently assuming the visage of Jim Caviezel, this last is evidenced by the ubiquitous murmurs of “mmm-hmm” you’ll no doubt encounter throughout the theater whenever His name is invoked in some hopelessly broad and meaningless way.)
Unfortunately, if not for these few virtues and one or two actual jokes turned in by Madea, you’d not be the least bit surprised if you’d been watching this movie with a bored sarcastic space prisoner and his two robot friends.