Tyler Perry offers something for everyone, whether it fits together or not. "Madea Goes to Jail," the latest addition to writer-director-actor Perry's ever-growing empire, is, by a conservative estimate, two movies squeezed into one.
FOR THE RECORD:
The first, which occupies far less screen time despite the title, centers around Mabel Simmons, better known as Madea (Perry), a short-tempered, no-nonsense house of a woman whose hair-trigger temper has run her afoul of the law once again. The other involves the relationship between Joshua (Derek Luke), a hardworking, mildly guileless young man who has climbed up from the ghetto to the city prosecutor's office, and his fiancée, Linda (Ion Overman), a fellow prosecutor of blueblood origins whose ambition is matched only by her cunning. Viewers of Perry's other movies, in which powerful women are frequently suspect, have a pretty good idea where this relationship is headed.
The two story lines intersect briefly early on, when Madea's court appearance coincides with a hearing for Candace (Keshia Knight Pulliam), a strung-out streetwalker who was Joshua's childhood friend and college classmate, at least until "that night," a phrase whose ominous invocation portends dark revelations to come.
Lightness of touch is not Perry's forte, nor even his goal. The movie's broad theatrics play to both ends of the scale: Heartstrings-yanking drama bumps square up against buffoonish comedy, with little attempt to unite the two. At least, that is, until the movie's halves collide in the final reel, with little apparent disruption.
Over the last few years, Perry has built up enough clout to cast actors like Luke and Viola Davis, in a small role as a recovering addict who helps the down-and-out come to Jesus, although he still rates his own talents highly enough to cast himself in three roles: Madea; her emphysemic, pot-smoking brother; and her long-suffering son.
More competently shot (and less transparently shoestring) than last year's " The Family That Preys," "Madea Goes to Jail" exploits Perry's access to media personalities like Dr. Phil and the hosts of "The View," who appear for little other reason than to prove he has their phone numbers.
But if the movie is a mess, it's a purposeful mess, cannily, if not artfully, pushing all the right buttons to ensure Perry will be back for another round.