'Madea's Family' a dysfunctional comedy

JIM SLOTEK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:46 PM ET

His recent "artiste" effort (For Colored Girls) aside, Tyler Perry has struck African-American-centric box-office gold with two separate formulaic templates -- broad comedies and simplistic homilies.

Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family is what happens when those two meet. Or rather, collide. Let's sift through the wreckage.

Madea, of course, is Perry's contribution to the "black actor in a female fat suit" genre, shared by Martin Lawrence (Big Momma's House) and Eddie Murphy (Norbit). A running character on stage, screen and on TV's Tyler Perry's House Of Payne, she's a foul-mouthed gun-toting septuagenarian who solves all problems by either driving her car through them. or slapping someone upside their head.

Perry's other "money" pitch is the family-values soap opera (Daddy's Little Girls, The Family That Preys), in which faith and family heals all, and the biggest threat to the community is often the "rich bitch" who adopts a "bougie" accent and forgets where she came from.

That trope is dredged up yet again in Big Happy Family, but she's only one of the female stereotypes on display in a movie full of baby-mamas, opportunistic "hos" and unclear parentage (Maury Povich and his TV DNA circus actually plays a part in this movie). For a guy who made a fortune wearing a dress, Perry gets accused of misogyny a lot. And Big Happy Family doesn't help his case.

Madea's Big Happy Family begins with Madea's niece Shirley (the professionally adorable Loretta Devine), with the support of pot-smoking Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), receiving news that "the cancer" has returned, and she doesn't have long to live. With grace that would shame an angel, she responds, "Every day that God gives us is a gift, and when he stops giving it to me, then I get to be with him."

Her dying wish? That her hate-ridden family reconciles. Her own attempts to get it done having failed, the call goes out to Madea to come in and slap everyone into loving each other. The roll-call of dysfunctionality includes the aforementioned rich realtor Kimberly (Shannon Kane), who despises her husband Calvin (Isaiah Mustafa, a.k.a. the Old Spice guy), Tammy (Natalie Desselle) who despises her husband Harold (Rodney Perry) and ex-con Byron (Shad 'Bow Wow' Moss), who's disrespected equally by his baby mama (Teyana Taylor) and his current girlfriend (Lauren London), who wants him to get back into dealing drugs so she can be "kept."

I will confess to being a sucker for puns, so the Madea-centric parts of the movie, when her ex, "Brown," dreads having his "prostitute" examined by the doctor, or she protests being on the verge of "carbon peroxide" poisoning in her idling car, got a few chuckles out of me. But the cantankerous old lady's dubious charms are no match for the lugubrious soap opera, plethora of tears, swelling strings and gospel music that accompany Shirley's impending demise.

Comedy is comedy, and "terminal illness" is "terminal illness" and the two really shouldn't meet. What you end up with is a movie that's literally as funny as cancer.

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Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family

Director: Tyler Perry

Starring: Tyler Perry, Loretta Devine, Shad (Bow Wow) Moss

Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes


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