Friday, February 8, 2013

The Madea Challenge! Part Four: Madea Goes To Jail

Parts One, Two, and Three are in the previous links.

I feel like the guy at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, when he goes through the insane hole and comes out the other side as a giant alien baby thing. I think at the end of this retrospective, I'm just gonna pop out as a sassy old black lady baby in space. No, wait, I'm pretty sure that was a profound, evolutionary experience in that movie. Maybe its more like the scary boat tunnel in Willy Wonka, only instead of a whimsical Gene Wilder welcoming me into a land of fantasy at the end of it, its a sassy black lady in a magical grits factory who tells me to raise my kids right and stop talking smack to my elders. I don't even know what I'm doing here anymore. Madea #4 bitches! - Madea Goes To Jail

Madea Level Four: Madea Goes To Jail

Yeah, I definitely think I've lost it, because if I didn't know any better, I'd say this series is possibly approaching some level of basic watchability. I can't go so far as to say its good yet, but it isn't nearly as offensively bad as it was when it started out, and I actually caught myself laughing more than once at this fourth installment. That being said, the marginal jump in quality is just enough that I'm beginning to see the flaws in this formula a lot more clearly than ever before. The comedy is working a little more than it was (though more jokes still fall flat than land), but at the same time, the heavy handed morality play that Perry insists on making the A story all the time is getting worse.

I think part of it is that the non-Madea related storylines are getting more tangential with each installment. At least in the first three movies, the main characters were related to her or at least somehow connected to this increasingly large extended family, so it made sense to follow them. In Madea Goes To Jail, the main character is just some guy that happens to barely cross paths with Madea in the first few minutes, then we follow his emotional journey trying to save the life of a prostitute, but until the incredibly flimsy attempt to make a connection in the third act, I'm constantly left to wonder why I should care about any of these people.

It would be different if these dramatic distractions had any sort of depth to them, but they almost always play out in the most predictable way, ending in the most obvious of hamfisted lessons, typically shoved down our throats with a healthy dose of Praise the Lord that never seems to really add anything, and I would guess only serves to alienate those who might be receptive to the message but aren't religious. Am I missing something, or did Tyler Perry just devote a significant amount of time in his movie to teach us all the valuable and oh-so-hard-to-independently-grasp notion that being a drug addicted prostitute is bad for you? I'm pretty sure even most drug addicted prostitutes know that. Is there really a large segment of the population that needs to find this out in a movie?

Thankfully, this tripe is only about 50% of the film, the rest devoted to Madea's various run ins with the law, which as I eluded to above is actually a touch better than usual. She gets a few funny lines in here and there, and I actually laughed out loud at a scene where her reputation has resulted in an entire SWAT team sent to take her down with helicopters over head. Still, a lot of the comedic potential of this premise is wasted on scenes that could have been funny, if only Perry knew where to find the humor in them. An anger management session with Dr. Phil is a prime example, where you expect something more than what we ultimately get, where instead of escalating things to a natural conclusion, they just sort of peter out before any fun is to be had.

Also, the presence of the moralistic A story, devoted as it is to law and order, seems to undercut the premise upon which I'm supposed to find Madea's antics so amusing. I'm watching the prostitute learn why a life of crime and degeneracy is bad, and then I'm watching this other lady who refuses at every turn to learn the error of her ways. The fact is, Madea really should be in jail, and at no point do I ever question the court's many judgements to this effect, even as the movie seems to want me to. Madea fires a machine gun into a crowd , lets her road rage cause property damage, physically attacks people, and steals a forklift in order to destroy a car just for taking her spot. And she does all of this unapologetically, which would be fine if the rest of the movie was as amoral, but it is exactly the opposite.

The Browns return here as well, but its only the annoying one and his daughter, who's mostly there to be shocked at everything Madea does. Sophia Vergera also comes back, though this time as a different character trying way too hard and failing to be funny with a stereotypical accent even thicker than last time, which I had not thought possible (and they waste a perfectly good opportunity to once again have her bouncing around in tight belly shirts, which is disappointing). Still, I couldn't help but laugh at Madea's brother throwing a booze and hooker fueled party the instant he thinks his sister is safely in jail, tying in a bong to his oxygen tank and drinking out of a goblet with "Pimp" scrawled on it. There are a few little moments like that that got me, though not enough to justify the experience of watching it.

That being said, its a lot better than any of the other ones so far, and continues a trend of steadily increasing quality. I'm hesitant to declare any optimism as to the next installment, as I wonder if this might be Perry's trap to teach me an obvious lesson about something, fooling me into a false sense of security so he can put me through Diary of a Mad Black Woman style hell again. We'll see next time. Until then.
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