Tyler Perry's latest effort is half madcap comedy, half soap opera. But even with a nearly two-hour runtime, it doesn't add up to a whole movie.
Perry, the film's writer, producer and director, once again dons a fat suit and drag to play Mabel M. Simmons, the hefty, volatile matriarch better known as Madea. A silver-haired, foul-mouthed, cigarette-smoking id, Madea has never met a problem that can't be solved with aggression. After Madea clears out a party with a machine-gun and bogarts a parking space using a forklift she lands in jail, where she promptly shoves a convict's head into a laundry press.
What does this have to do with Josh (Derek Luke), a dapper young prosecutor trying to rescue his childhood friend Candace (Keshia Knight Pulliam) from a life of prostitution? Nothing at all, but Perry has never met a premise that can't be padded with subplots. As a result, the film flip-flops schizophrenically and without warning between broad slapstick and tear-streaked melodrama.
A gifted writer but a slapdash filmmaker, Perry has a bad habit of letting his actors guide themselves, which can make for some painfully bumpy moments: People repeat their lines, miss their cues and improvise helplessly. At least Perry has an eye for talent: Viola Davis, Oscar-nominated for her brief role in " Doubt," here plays a tough-talking charity-worker, and Vanessa Ferlito ( "Nothing Like the Holidays") adds a dash of realism as Candace's partner on the streets.
"Madea" tries to liven things up with a bevy of cameos -- Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Harvey, Al Sharpton -- and eventually ties everything into the tidiest knot it can. The film's funniest moment, and this isn't saying much, comes when Madea spots a Christian bracelet inscribed "WWJD?" She takes a scornful guess: "What's Wrong with Jermaine Dupri?"
PLOT Something about a hot-tempered matriarch, a young prosecutor and a hooker in need of help.
CAST Tyler Perry, Derek Luke, Viola Davis, Keshia Knight Pulliam
PLAYING AT Area theaters.
BOTTOM LINE Comedy and drama mix like oil and water in this thin concoction.