With or without the over-the-top drag act named Madea, Tyler Perry's movies have always been weirdly ambivalent about the effect of money on his target demographic.
Spot an African-American man in a business suit -- or worse, an African-American woman -- and that person will usually turn out to be the "heavy" in Perry's latest homily. Success equals "forgetting where you came from." (An equation that apparently doesn't apply to Perry, who is a bona fide movie mogul).
So it figures that when Perry himself decides to tie a Windsor knot -- in his latest, Tyler Perry's Good Deeds -- it's to play Wesley Deeds (Good Deeds, get it?) a guy who inherited the CEO spot at his dad's software company, and has so lost touch with his blackness, he doesn't even know who Tupac is.
He wears a pasted-on smile and lives in a nice house with a beautiful fiancée (Gabrielle Union), where the two of them sigh resignedly at the same-old-same-old of their day-to-day life (and they're not even married yet!). About the only excitement in his life involves frequently bailing out his resentful, no-good brother Walter (Brian J. White).
Sigh. Ain't being rich a bitch?
What this guy needs, naturally, is a beautiful poor woman to come along and remind him of what matters. Someone like Lindsey (Thandie Newton), the homeless, single-mom cleaning lady in his office, who keeps her daughter in the supply closet and just happens to keep the same hours as the workaholic Wesley.
The idea that the poor/working-class have valuable life lessons to teach the rich is an old school Hollywood trope (propagated by rich Hollywood producers). And the fact that Perry would shamelessly invoke the name "Deeds" (after Gary Cooper's Mr. Deeds, the archetype of the common man schooling the rich folk) suggests he's been shaped by it.
Tyler Perry's Good Deeds takes a long time to tell a simple story. Wesley and Lindsey are going to "meet cute." There will be misunderstandings and nastiness (Phylicia Rashad plays Wesley's frozen-smiled manipulative mother, the manifestation of what money does to black women in every Perry movie).
And at the character-arc point of crisis, there will be mayhem (there's a laughable, eye-clawing "dirty laundry" public spectacle in the third act that could be straight out of Dynasty in the '80s).
As usual, Perry is surrounded by blue-chip talent, in the form of Newton and Union (and how hard a life is it when you have to choose between them?).
It's to their respective credit that they both manage to breathe occasional life into this unconvincing mid-life crisis soap opera. Alas, Perry the director made the unwise choice to make Perry the actor the focus of virtually every scene. And as an actor, Perry's emotional palate is limited.
Yes, he's playing a guy who's bottled up and repressed, but his temperature changes hardly at all when he "lets it all out." How does someone who cuts loose when he puts on a dress become such a lox when he turns "serious?"
I never thought I'd say it, but I miss Madea.
(This film is rated PG)