Lionsgate // 2012 // 110 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // July 6th, 2012
Tyler Perry is good indeed.
In Tyler Perry's world, a lack of Madea usually means a lack of major mainstream acceptance. When the gun-toting, pot smoking battleaxe (played by the auteur in drag) is part of a production, his faithful fanbase usually shows up in droves. But when he scuttles the dress to be more "serious," the results don't always demand commercial respect. Daddy's Little Girls did all right, and Why Did I Get Married? was driven by a superstar center named Janet Jackson. But The Family That Preys did not fare well, and many believe he botched his attempt to bring Ntozake Shange's slam poetry masterwork For Colored Girls to the big screen. Good Deeds, on the other hand, is a noble attempt to distance himself from the muumuu wearing albatross. If this was 1959, no one would give this film another look. But with its old school melodramatics and excellent casting, what was "B" back then now becomes as close to "A" as Perry will probably ever come.
Wesley Deeds (Perry, Madea's Big Happy Family) is a man at a crossroads. His domineering mother (Phylicia Rashad, Just Wright) wants him to commandeer the family business and take it in the direction of her choosing. She also wants him to step up and marry his long-suffering fiance, Natalie (Gabrielle Union, Think Like a Man). To make matters worse, Wesley's business partner is his alcoholic brother Walter (Brian J. White, The Best Man), a man with so many DUIs that his sober sibling has to drive him to and from work. One day, Wesley runs into a homeless woman named Lindsey (Thandie Newton, 2012). Sympathizing with her situation, he decides to help. Once he learns that she is a "janitor" in his corporate offices, he provides shelter and support for her and her young daughter. Of course, Mom will have none of this, and as a major deal looms that will confirm Wesley's career, he starts to waver. Lindsey stresses freedom of attitude and choice, something our hero has never allowed himself to experience in his buttoned down, preprogrammed life.
All the Tyler Perry hate needs to stop now. He's not the worst filmmaker there ever was (paging Dale Resteghini) nor is his desire to speak to a specific demographic (read: African Americans) some manner of affront to regular moviegoers. Throughout his work, his stage plays and his various adaptations of same, he's maintained a certain level of quality that cannot be questioned. His efforts don't always wholly succeed, but they aren't on par with the pathetic output of someone like Shawn Levy, or Adam Sandler's doormat, Dennis Dugan. Now those are some horrific hired hacks. Indeed, Perry is about as close to an auteur as current creative types come. He takes standard stereotypes and cinematic cliches and remolds them to fit his Go with God ideals, usually resulting in something funny and/or fresh.
Good Deeds is not a comedy, and in comparison to Perry's humorous work, it can be a bit dull. It drive along a strip of celluloid highway that many moviemakers before have traveled with more precision and greater control. He offers up a terrific cast (no one embarrasses themselves here) and gives them room to grow and stretch. It's the narrative, not the characters, that cause us the biggest problem. We just know that Wesley Deeds is headed out on a journey of self discovery that will end up circumventing the wishes of his mother and the rest of his surname tradition and a relationship with Lindsey is a foregone conclusion. So it's not the various plot points we care about, but how the individuals involved get there. A few chuckles would make this material go down a lot smoother. Instead, everyone is so staunch and serious that we can almost see the mechanics churning behind the eventual five hanky manipulation.
Again, the acting is uniformly good, and Perry proves himself a more than competent director. There are moments when the formidable phenomenon actually immerses us in his iconic insularity. We feel Wesley's pain, champion his choices, and wonder if Lindsey is indeed the right choice for him. Perry may not match the work of others in his company, but when you compare his efforts here with his work in, say, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, it's like night and day. That being said, Perry still has a hard time with subtext. He can't hint at themes, he has to apply a creative hammer to get his parallel ideas across. In fact, the problem most casual fans have with the man is that he wears everything -- conflict, love, hate, harmony -- on the end of his frequently frumpy sleeves. If you want to see Tyler Perry at his best and most entertaining, go out and get something featuring that madwoman Madea. Once you've experienced the man at his most accessible, it's time for Good Deeds.
On the Blu-ray front, Lionsgate delivers the contemporary Hollywood goods with this release. The 2.35:1/1080p high definition image is excellent, crisp, clean and colorful. Better still, Perry's improving eye means the movie looks even better than his work from the past. Similarly, the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix delivers a definitive experience, pumping the slow burn soul score right to the fore while keeping the dialogue front and center. It makes for a polished, professional presentation. As for added content, we get a couple of throwaway featurettes...and that's it. Perry doesn't do commentary or other flashy bonus features. It's interviews with the cast and crew, period.
As more of a breather than a breakout, Tyler Perry's Good Deeds is decent enough. It is entertaining in small swatches and desperate to deliver its more-than-obvious message. As he continues to crawl both outside and back into his comfort zone (for the former, a starring role in the non-Perry production, Alex Cross; for the latter, Madea's Witness Protection), it's clear that we will have this lightning rod personality to critically kick around for quite some time to come. Many may not get him, but those who do swear by Perry's preaching via predictability. Good Deeds falls somewhere outside his norm. It will keep your interest even if it doesn't arm your aesthetic.
Not guilty. Not great, but definitely a step in the right artistic
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Digital Copy