PLOT After years of marriage, an unhappy woman hits her breaking point.
CAST Taraji P. Henson, Lyriq Bent, Crystle Stewart
RATED R (violence and language)
BOTTOM LINE An attempt at “Fatal Attraction,” but the clumsy writing and slow pace prove lethal.
“Tyler Perry’s Acrimony” begins with the sight of a woman having a bad day. Melinda, played by Taraji P. Henson, sits in court facing an unseen accuser, an unsympathetic judge and possible jail time. Melinda looks exhausted but unbowed. What, we wonder, is the real story?
Over the next two hours, Melinda will tell a therapist — and us — all about Robert (Lyriq Bent), the husband she describes as a “con man,” “a lowlife maggot” and worse. Over the years Robert has cheated on Melinda, bilked her out of money and loafed around the house while working on some far-fetched “invention.” Finally, Melinda snapped.
That, however, isn’t the real story. “Acrimony” is an attempt by writer-director Tyler Perry to build a thriller around an unreliable narrator, a fairly daring experiment from a filmmaker best known for self-help dramas like “Why Did I Get Married?” and for dressing up as a large-breasted grandmother in his “Madea” comedies. Protagonists who don’t give us the whole truth are rare in the movies, and for good reason: They present all kinds of plot problems and they risk leaving us feeling turned off or cheated. Few directors have been able to pull this off (Akira Kurosawa, in 1950’s “Rashomon,” is the go-to example), and Perry is not one of them.
We suspect something doesn’t jell when Melinda and Robert first collide on a sidewalk in college (they’re played by Ajiona Alexus and Antonio Madison). She’s so rude to him that we’re not quite sure why he would pursue her. What’s more, Melinda describes Robert as a sexual predator even as we watch her drag him aggressively into bed. Initially, the dissonance is intriguing: We feel a mystery building.
The problem is that Perry is no more reliable than Melinda. Sometimes the director believes his creation: We do indeed see Robert cheat, lie and fail to pay his bills. Other times, Perry sides with Robert, painting him as a faithful husband and brilliant scientist (his invention is a climate-friendly battery). When another woman, Diana (Crystle Stewart), enters the picture, the story starts to bog down in contrivances and coincidences.
“Acrimony” wraps everything up with a violent ending a la “Fatal Attraction.” It only leaves us with one last question: What movie have we been watching, exactly?