Tyler Perry made his fortune by pandering to a predominantly African-American audience. So a tip of the Santa hat for him trying to broaden his appeal by pandering to a white one with "A Madea Christmas," his most integrated movie ever.
Give him respect for making an effort to go against the cultural grain, making a black female character a racist, spouting retrograde sentiments about how all a bully needs is a punch in the mouth and embracing the "War Against Christmas" meme of conservative news outlets.
But from its unfunny Madea-in-customer-service opening to the abrupt thud of a finale, on into the seriously stiff outtakes that cover the closing credits, "Christmas" is his worst Madea movie ever.
How bad is this tale of race, "Taking the Christ out of Christmas" and trouble down on the farm? You can't wait for Larry the Cable Guy to show up.
Yes, it's that bad.
And truth be told, Perry and Larry, two old pros at low comedy, could have done a simple two-character farce, bickering about bigotry, hip-hop vs. country music or what have you, and produced a funnier movie. Their scenes at least have a little spark to them. The rest of the movie -- none at all.
Madea is fired from her department store greeter gig thanks to assorted "slap the hell outta you" threats. But Eileen (Anna Maria Horsford), her overbearing colleague, talks her into driving with her on a surprise Christmas visit to Eileen's schoolteacher daughter, Lacey (Tika Sumpter).
Lacey's a black teacher to a class full of white kids in tiny Buck Tussle (not to be confused with Bug Tussle), Ala. It's a town about to lose its Christmas festival due to lack of funds, until Lacey's ex-beau Oliver (J.R. Lemon) steps in and finds a corporate (and secular) sponsor.
Times are hard in Buck Tussle, with farmers like Tanner (Chad Michael Murray) taking out his frustration on his wife (Alicia Witt) and son, Bailey (Noah Urrea). Lacey's secret love, Connor (Eric Lively) is a college-trained crop specialist who somehow never learned which cows in his herd actually give the milk. Hilarious.
When Eileen, Madea and Oliver show up, things get complicated. When Connor's parents (Cable Guy and Kathy Najimy) arrive, there's almost no room at the inn.
Madea is famous for her malapropisms, mispronounced words in the manner of Mrs. Malaprop, a character from an 18th century play. Mrs. Madea-prop tells Lacey's students "the story of the Nativitease. The Virgin Mary ... J. Blige ... she went into laborer ..." Najimy matches Madea's word-botching, calling Madea everything from "Medium" to "Mrs. Mandela." What Perry doesn't know about farming would fill a better movie than this. He toys with race, sidestepping into a couple of KKK jokes and making Eileen less than tolerant of "The Help," which is how she views Connor.
The timeline is sloppy, the town "crisis" clumsily handled and the supporting cast -- save for the bawdy Larry and Najimy -- couldn't find a laugh if their lives depended on it.
"The Nativitease," a couple of mild Madea / Larry exchanges and this aphorism -- "A lie -- the longer you let it live, the harder it is to kill" -- are all the movie has to recommend it.
That's not enough to save "Christmas," a lump of cinematic coal Perry is shoving into America's stockings this holiday season.
PLOT Coaxed into helping a friend pay her daughter a surprise holiday visit, the stern, sassy matriarch Madea shakes up a small rural town preparing for its annual Christmas Jubilee.
CAST Tyler Perry, Anna Marie Horsford, Larry the Cable Guy
BOTTOM LINE A cinematic lump of coal for the holidays.