Tyler Perry's fans know enough to stay through the closing credits of his latest, "Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns." The ending is filled with outtakes that give away the movie's real purpose, to launch his friend and collaborator David Mann (star of many a Perry play and Perry's TV show, "House of Payne") into movie stardom. Whatever Mann doesn't get to do in his few scenes in the movie is more than made up for in the outtakes.
And that's the sole purpose of "Browns," a holding-pattern movie for a filmmaker whose skills and ambition seemed to be growing, movie by movie, even if the films all fit the same pandering, female-empowerment formula. Whatever progress the man was making, "Browns" is a Madea-sized big fat step backward.
It's a sloppy, slapdash dramedy based on Perry's play (and video of that play) of the same title.
Angela Bassett is Brenda, a single mom struggling to survive in Chicago. She's had three kids by three different daddies. The oldest, a real mama's boy named Michael (Lance Gross), could be a basketball star, if only his no-good daddy would help Brenda make the rent and keep the electricity on.
"One thing a black woman know how to do is make it!" she says proudly.
Then Brenda gets the news that the daddy she never knew has died in Georgia. A relative has sent her bus tickets. The bulk of the movie is Brenda fighting to keep a job, to keep her son out of the drug trade, to avoid the courtship of a handsome coach (ex-LA Laker Rick Fox, more model than actor) and generally delay the trip to Georgia that the darned movie is about.
That's where she runs into the leisure-suit wearing Leroy (David Mann), a guy given to praising Jesus, spouting malapropisms ("helicropter") and high-voiced one-liners ("Don't go gospel gangster on her, baby").
Some of the family (characters played Margaret Avery of "The Color Purple," Frankie Faison) are welcoming to this "sister" their "pimp" daddy never told them about. But Vera (Jenifer Lewis) is all up in Brenda's business, mouthing off, insulting her poverty and the like. If Smithfield hams ever looks for a spokeswoman, Lewis is their gal. She claws her way into scenes, mugs shamelessly, and never plays a line when she can overplay it.
It's great that Perry always works messages into his plays and movies, and Brenda gets a nice speech about the dead end of kids who rely on sports as a way up in the world. He always leaves the race card off the table, with a nearly equal share of black and white villains and sympathetic figures. He slips a bit, serving up a Latina cliche in Brenda's pal, Cheryl, a menacing, mouthy Colombian spitfire straight out of the 1970s.
When Perry shoehorns in an unexplained, unmotivated and absurd police chase with Madea (the grandmotherly character Perry plays in drag) solely to promote his next film, "Madea Goes to Jail" in September, you can't help but wish he'd hire somebody else to polish his mediocre stage scripts before he films them. And you'd hope that someday he'll care less about his "Tyler Perry" brand, pandering to his base audience and padding his bank account.
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