‘Madea Goes To Jail’ misfires
Special to the Sun
Tyler Perry, the auteur of all things Madea, embraces faith-based messages and slapstick humor with equal fervor. Perry began as a playwright and the star of his own musical comedy-dramas. A big, tall fellow, Perry dons Madea-drag in order to funnel his perception of American life through her reading glasses and curly grey locks. His impish expression befits a matriarch prone to both brutal honesty and full-scale self-destruction. Though Madea is Christian and conservative, she abhors going to church and craves nothing more than getting her just revenge.
Strange bedfellows are born of the whipsaw action between Madea’s comedic fight for parking lot spaces and young Joshua Hardaway’s (Derek Luke) dramatic efforts to do the right thing. One moment, Madea’s rants and bad behavior incite belly laughs, the next, Hardaway’s struggle to step up to the plate is painfully gut-wrenching. Perry’s jarring storytelling technique indicates that he probably envisioned two wholly separate tales then decided to meld them into one.
Given her anger and me-first issues, can Madea stay out of jail or once there, get out? Given his ambition, can the aptly named district attorney Hardaway, ever see the people he loves for who they really are?
The film, between bouts of ogling Madea’s juvenile outbursts, casts Hardaway as a saint-in-the-making. Perry, appearing as two male characters in addition to his starring turn as Madea, fully fleshes-out the film’s conniving or trampled feminine characters, leaving his rather ineffectual males to flounder.
Keshia Knight Pulliam appears as Candace Washington, a once bright college student who has thrown her future away for a streetwalker’s life. Candace’s childhood pal, Joshua Hardaway, abandoned her while they were in college and therefore feels responsible to help Candace regain her footing. He enlists the help of Ellen (Viola Davis) a tough love minister and one of the drama’s few credible characters.
Meanwhile, Madea’s anger issues land her in therapy with a befuddled Dr. Phil. She answers his probing questions with prying questions of her own, indicating she has no intention of considering a change in her insufferable behavior. One of the few Madea scenes that quickly wears out its welcome is an extended version of the therapy session that plays over the closing credits.
Perry’s movie, a misfiring effort to balance satire and melodrama, wants more of the outrageous Madea and less of everyone else.
Archived footage of the Holidays performing with and nuzzling their big cats, underpins their surprisingly evocative story. Ron Holiday, now teaching ballet in Florida, describes his classical dance training, his marriage to childhood sweetheart Joy, and the circumstances prompting them to become “Cat Dancers.”
Following more than a decade of success, Ron and Joy take on Chuck, a runaway young enough to be their son who completes both their marriage and their act. Some years later, Ron adds Jupiter to their cat collection, a white tiger he fears is inbred, but that feels is necessary to expand their appeal.
The group’s act qualifies as Siegfried and Roy-lite, but what happened to this trio may have given the Vegas duo pause. Incredibly sad, but illuminating, this documentary explains why we would be wise not to domesticate nature’s perfect killing machines. DVD features: deleted scenes, Interviews with Exotic Cat Experts, filmmaker text biographies, English DD 2.0 stereo language track, full-screen.
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