Saturday, Apr 21, 2018
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Madea comedy is still messy, but the cast is funnier than in recent films


Shirley (Loretta Devine), left, and Madea (Tyler Perry) plot to get Shirley’s three adult children together to hear some news in ‘Madea’s Big Happy Family.’


The quarterly dividend from Tyler Perry Inc. is out, and fans/investors will be happy to see that the company has renewed its focus on its core business, putting Perry in a wig, dress, and oversized glasses.

Madea’s Big Happy Family is stuffed to the gills with Perry’s mix of the sacred and the silly and a serious dose of self-help for the self-absorbed.

It’s as messy as any of Perry’s Madea comedies — assorted characters doing weakly connected one-off scenes that are little more than extended riffs. And there’s the feeling that Perry’s ambitions are pulling him away from this character and this world. But if that’s the case — and Big Happy Family does seem to wrap most everything about the extended Simmons/Brown/etc. clan of Atlanta up in a neat little harangue — at least Perry leaves it all on the court. Which is to say, he and his ensemble are funnier than they’ve been in ages.

Madea’s niece Shirley (Loretta Devine) is sick with “the cancer.” And when she’s done with her religious rationalizing — “Every day that God gives us is a gift, and when He stops giving ‘em, I get to be with Him” — she resolves to round up her family to give them all the news over a big family dinner.

The joint-smoking/chain-smoking Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis, a hoot) has been her only help. But Shirley’s kids are a problem. They won’t sit down together.

Byron (Shad “Bow Wow” Moss) is in and out of jail, dealing with a monstrous baby mama, and his new girlfriend, who insists that she be “kept.”

Tammy (Natalie Desselle Reid) is a nagging shrew raising two insolent, ill-mannered brats.

And Kimberly (Shannon Kane) is a harridan in her own right, too mean and rich to want to spend time with her mother or siblings.

It’s up to Madea to climb into her ancient Cadillac, risking “carbon peroxide poisoning,” to round the offspring up so that their momma can say good-bye. She’s got to threaten, slap them to straighten them out, and maybe keep them all off Maury Povich’s TV show — which they all love.

Cora and Mr. Brown (Tamela J. Mann and David Mann) are also having hospital issues. This big happy family is full of fat people making diet and diabetes jokes.

Davis is the funniest of the supporting cast, though Teyana Taylor’s turn as the shrieking baby mama is epic. She’s got a voice like Wolverine’s fingernails dragging across a chalkboard.

Madea’s Big Happy Family** 1/2
***** Outstanding; ****
Very Good; *** Good; ** Fair; * Poor.

Written and directed by Tyler Perry.

A Lionsgate release, playing at Rave Fallen Timbers, Franklin Park, and Levis Commons.

Rated PG-13 for drug content, language, and some mature thematic material. Running time: 105 minutes.

But it is Perry who takes it on himself to comically lift the movie out of its melodramatic moments, exhaling a breathless patter of profane insults, advice, and life lessons. His bit on the “traffic jam” years of life, ages 40 to 50, would make Dr. Phil jealous, and his own-your-own-actions philosophy can seem refreshing, when Madea’s not hectoring this husband or that one to “be a man” and put his woman in her place.

But his jokes, all the way through to the film’s outtakes, land more often than not.

“These stretchmarks are the road map to heaven.”

If he’s moving on from Madea — and For Colored Girls and his next couple of announced projects suggest he is — at least Perry’s doing right by the old broad, letting her bow out like one big, wise-cracking mother of a momma.

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