Lionsgate // 2009 // 103 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // June 26th, 2009
Something big is coming to the big house.
Yes, everybody's favorite gun totin', sass talkin', 6-foot 5-inch grandma goes where some folks think she should have gone long ago -- prison.
There's a good chance you've seen commercials for this film, or trailers, or previews on other DVDs. You've probably caught the bits that show how Madea ended up in trouble with the law (it involves a forklift and somebody's sports car), her arrest (a phalanx of cops have to take her down, screaming and fighting), her time in jail (more fighting, this time with a character called "Big Sal"), and a few other Madea-isms ("She got a gun!").
If you have caught these scenes, then you have pretty much seen everything the movie offers concerning Madea and jail. Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail is as much about Madea going to jail as Last Tango in Paris is about dancing. The promise of an all-out comedy about Tyler Perry's famously outrageous character is merely a siren song, disguising what's really here: a typically turgid Tyler Perry message movie overflowing with obvious and awful writing and direction, and wooden performances.
After an all-Madea opening credit sequence, we watch police chase a car driven (we assume) by the crazy old lawbreaker. We then join a bunch of assistant district attorneys, who are watching a recording of this. The recording goes off, and we and the ADAs are told by the head DA that Madea assaulted cops, resisted arrest, and caused all manner of mayhem. Since film is a visual medium, why not show us all this hilarity?
Instead, we meet our protagonist, ADA Josh (Derek Luke, Antoine Fisher) who is affianced to the wealthy and socially elite Linda (Ion Overman, Desperate Housewives), a fellow ADA. While at court for Madea's arraignment, Josh encounters Candy (Keisha Knight Pulliam, The Cosby Show), an old friend who is now a drug-addicted prostitute. The two are linked by the kind of "terrible secret" this is the lifeblood of bad melodrama and is revealed in a mawkish mid-point confessional that looks like it was lifted from a '70s era made-for-TV movie.
The film then pings back and forth between Candy's degrading life on the street and Josh's overreaching efforts to help her. Candy's a tough-talkin' lady, though she never exceeds the boundaries of the PG-13 rating. Josh is as straight and boring as Dagwood without the sandwich, and the more he tries to do for Candy -- that "terrible secret" thing, you know -- the more ticked off he makes Linda. Since Linda is gainfully employed, ambitious, and from a well-off family, she is, naturally, the villain of the piece, and her aggravation that her intended has a crack whore bunking on the couch is viewed as peevish and intolerant. To paint her as a first-class baddie -- and to get Candy into prison, where she meets Madea -- Perry makes Linda the architect of a scheme so vile, she's like Bernie Madoff, Mike Nifong, and Cruella De Vil all rolled into one. The idea is that you're supposed to cheer the public pillorying she gets at the film's end.
Since subtlety is not Tyler Perry's strong suit, Linda's misdeeds are as over-the-top horrible as they are simplistic. That her "tactics" -- basically, moving a piece of paper from one file to another -- would fool anyone, including TV judge Greg Mathis in an unfortunate cameo, is absurd. When one character does figure it out, she threatens to expose him for having cheated on his long-ago bar exam, another conveniently placed "terrible secret."
The scenes with Madea and her extended family just pop up randomly, like porn inserts. She has no real bearing on the Josh-Candy-Linda story, and when she meets Candy in prison, it's fairly incidental. Perry tries to amp things up at the end by making Madea yet another victim of Linda's dishonest and overzealous prosecutions and causing a "Free Madea" campaign that is embraced by Steve Harvey, Rev. Al Sharpton, and all the women on The View except Barbara Walters. Social responsibility suffers a set-back when Madea -- a fictional character whom we've seen committing crimes since the opening credits -- is compared to the Jena 6, a real-life racial injustice case that Harvey, The View ladies, and particularly Sharpton have all discussed seriously and at length. Wonder if they realized that Perry was going to exploit this controversial and polarizing situation for a couple of cheap gags in this crummy movie.
The film itself looks dull, like a bad TV show. Everything is very flat, including the performances, except, of course, Perry, who plays three characters (Madea, crazy, pot-smoking Uncle Joe, and the comparatively normal Brian). The continuity is atrocious. Candy's hair switches from hooker red to homey brown and back again from scene to scene, sometimes during scenes. A shot of Madea's driver's license puts her birth date as 1962, which would suggest she became pregnant with her first child while she was in utero. Also, I'm not an expert on this character, but was Madea really a pole dancer and escort or is this just something dreamed up for this film?
On to the disc. Pretty much what you'd expect: It's a recent film, so video and audio are fine. For extras, we get half-a-dozen short featurettes about the character, the making of the film, and so on. They could have just made this one long featurette, but then it wouldn't have looked as impressive on the DVD case.
Tyler Perry could probably have made a funny, crowd-pleasing comedy and still gotten in his hackneyed message about redemption, being true to yourself, and all that. Apparently, he did just that with the stage version -- see Judge Bill Gibron's review of the stage version in the sidebar. Instead, he went the superficial faux-social drama route for this film, and the results are stupefying. Worse, the whole thing feels like a cheat.
If you're looking for laughs from the large-and-in-charge Mabel "Madea" Simmons, then be prepared to do a lot of scanning for some meager returns.
Review content copyright © 2009 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Official Site