For one reason or another, it seems like some sort of rabid animal always turns up at every family reunion Judge Clark Douglas attends.
Going home is no vacation.
"You need to stop focusing on the team of WE, and start focusing on the team of ME!"—Dr. R.J. Stevens (aka Roscoe Jenkins)
Facts of the Case
Roscoe Jenkins (Martin Lawrence, Bad Boys) is a successful television talk show host who seems to be a cross between Dr. Phil (he's written an inspirational book called "Team of Me") and Jerry Springer (just examine the guests on his program). Roscoe is a single father of a pre-teen son, and he has just gotten engaged to a very strong-willed Survivor champion. Things are looking pretty good for Roscoe, and he's hesitant to leave his life of luxury for a few days to attend his parents' 50th anniversary celebration/family reunion weekend. Nonetheless, he decides to take the trip. He might have might a different decision if he had known how much this weekend was going to turn his comfortable life upside down.
Why is it that family reunions are rarely very funny in movies? I've been to quite a few real life family reunions that have been nothing short of hilarious, but the ones portrayed in comedies are never very interesting. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that I know the people at my family reunions, and I'm given very little time to get to know the characters at a movie reunion. Perhaps it is because movie reunions tend to be a little bit more predictable and cliched than real-life reunions. Ah, what does it matter? Here is another family reunion movie that simply isn't very good.
Once Lawrence arrives at his family's house, the movie wastes time for about an hour or so. It quickly establishes all of Roscoe's troubled relationships with his family members and friends (most notably a former flame from high school), and then proceeds to turn the volume up to 11. Roscoe spends the majority of this hour getting beat up by different people for different reasons. He behaves like a jerk, someone will beat him up, his girlfriend will chide him, and his lifelong rival (Cedric the Entertainer, Barbershop) will snicker. These scenes are quite chaotic…a lengthy fight scene between Cedric and Martin drums up more sheer noise and frenzy than anything in "Transformers."
In between all this madness, some funny lines are occasionally delivered and some solid dramatic scenes appear. Mike Epps (The Honeymooner) and Mo'Nique (Domino) both do their standard routines reasonably well, while Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile) makes a good impression as Roscoe's brother. Cedric the Entertainer is one of the most likable and watchable comedians in modern cinema, but he has the weakest role here. For the most part, Cedric is only permitted to engage in goofy physical comedy, which is not exactly his strong suit. Meanwhile, Martin Lawrence is generally quite good when he isn't being beaten up…which, sadly, is not very often.
Noted film composer David Newman continues his string of lousy assignments by scoring this film. I say lousy not because the film is bad (which it sort of is), but because the film is so littered with aimless songs during key scenes, meaning Newman doesn't have much to do. On the other hand, based on what Newman provides here, I'm not sure that any more contributions from him would be a good thing. Most of the music here is wacky, downright obnoxious organ-n-sax material that occasionally is given a good coat of country hoedown flavor. It's bad comedy scoring, music that is trying to be as funny as the scenes it is accompanying. The gentle piano-and-guitar pieces for the romantic scenes are nice, but typical. I didn't know who wrote the score for the film until I saw the credits, and I was a little sad when I discovered the answer. Newman, once a rather distinct musical voice, has turned into one of those composers who sound like all those other composers who sound like other composers.
The DVD transfer is bright and clear, and allows the warm and pleasing visual vibes of the film to come through nicely. The sound design is fine, though the aforementioned film score probably should have been dialed down a notch or two. DVD extras are pretty generous, if lightweight. There are twenty minutes of so-so deleted scenes, twenty minutes of fun outtakes, three EPK-style featurettes, a music video, an alternate opening, and a commentary from director Malcolm D. Lee. Of these, only the commentary offers anything of real substance, as Lee offers a busy and engaging track that's worth a listen.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The movie's most significant saving grace is James Earl Jones (Field of Dreams), who plays Roscoe's father. It's always good to see Jones on the big screen, the actor has been perpetually underused by cinema his entire career. Jones is such a solid actor, and here is proof: even in the middle of all of this chaos, all Jones has to do is show up and start talking, and suddenly the film is credible and believable again. There aren't many actors who can do that, and Jones offers a very touching performance as a father who has been incapable of showing his son much affection.
I wanted to like this film, and I certainly believe that this cast could have made a very enjoyable film. Everyone here has been very funny before, and they will all be very funny again…in better movies. Aside from some giggle-worthy one-liners and credible dramatic moments towards the end, the film is really a rather noisy and poorly-executed effort. The strong cast makes it reasonably easy to sit through, but the writer, director and producer really should have given them more substance to work with.
Guilty. This year's family reunion is postponed until further notice.
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Scales of Justice
• Alternate Opening
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