Friday, February 15, 2013

The Madea Challenge! Part Seven: Madea's Witness Protection

Free at last! Free at last! God all mighty, free at last! Which is to say, I am free from this self-imposed movie marathon, because I am at the very last Madea movie. Also, despite this film series causing me to believe even less in God than I did before, the fact that it ends might just be proof that the all mighty does exist afterall, and knows some semblance of mercy. Then again, I'm pretty sure there's a Madea Christmas movie coming out this year, so maybe that's going too far. In any case, I just watched Madea's Witness Protection, the last film so far in the Madea franchise, and the first not based on a previously released play. Is there a difference in style or execution, and does the lack of his own source material to work from make it better or worse? Find out after the jump! (Hint: terms like "better" and "worse" have very little meaning in the context of how terrible these movies are.)

Madea Level Seven: Madea's Witness Protection

Madea's Witness Protection finds our favorite crotchety matriarch hiding the patsy of a Bernie Madoff style ponzi scheme from the mob while he awaits trial, along with his (surprise!) dysfunctional family. I'm hesitant to say that this film was my favorite in the series, as I'm honestly not quite sure if I'm just imagining that because its the last one and I'm conflating my feelings for the film with the fact that I don't have to watch these anymore. And yet, it seems to reduce all the things I traditionally dislike about these movies and emphasize all the things I find basically tolerable if not actually entertaining. The movie is basically wall to wall Madea, which believe it or not I've grown to somewhat appreciate, with the sappy melodramatic morality tale almost completely removed.

The moral center of this movie is actually kind of strange compared to the rest of the franchise now that I think about it. For one thing, the protagonist played by Eugene Levy is a generally sympathetic rich white guy whose only sin is being somewhat gullible, and while he learns his lesson, it seems like an odd choice for a series that is usually so single mindedly focused on the inner strength and nobility of black people in poverty. The closest thing we get to a dramatic morality tale is a side character who lost money invested in Levy's company earmarked for his father's church, and struggles with telling his father the truth. You would think the moral would be to tell the truth, but instead, he tags along with the zany scheme to get the money back, and does so in time for him never to have to tell his father he screwed up.

Thankfully, this plot thread as well as the "Madea teaches this family to love each other again" subplot are both relegated to a relatively small percentage of the film, leaving more room for the much more tolerable, though still not necessarily good comedic moments. Madea's interaction with the family has a few notably amusing highlights, including lying to the daughter and telling her that her entire family is dead just to get revenge for her bratty behavior, as well as the many ways her personality threatens to spoil the plan when she must affect a false identity in order to get back money stolen from several charities. Her brother Joe is given an interesting side story in which he comes to believe that Eugene Levy's character is his illegitimate son, but it never really gets paid off. This is the only Madea movie so far I think that ends with a laugh line, the others usually ending on the happy resolution of the moral parable A story, and its also the only one where I actually laughed at the gag reel in the credits, for whatever that's worth.

Still, I think the greater emphasis on broad comedy over the dreadful hamfisted lessons and bible thumping serve to showcase the limitations of Perry as a comedic voice. It has been clear throughout this entire series that a lot of Madea and her brother's jokes are improvised by Perry on set, as blooper reels show that he likes to just leave the camera on and throw up everything to see what sticks. This film, more so I'd say than the other ones even, takes this practice a bit too far. Leaving room for more jokes is sometimes rewarding, but just as often it leaves our main characters rambling, almost as if they assume the take is over and they're just continuing to vamp in character for the fun of it. I've talked on this blog before about how I'm not a fan of that Will Ferrell style of script-less improvisational comedy. I'll give a pass to Christopher Guest and his crew, because for the most part, they're geniuses at that, but not everybody can pull that off, least of all Perry.

What's that you say, did I mention Christopher Guest and his regular acting troupe just then in the context of improvisational genius and forget to mention how funny Eugene Levy was in this movie? Well, that's probably because Levy does everything in his power to try and make you and I forget that he is an improvisational genius in this movie, by being not just unfunny, but painfully so. I don't know when Levy decided that Old White Guy Talking Street = Automatic Comedy Gold, but somebody needs to let him know that this is not a self evident truth. After Bringin' Down The House, The Man, and now this (and I suppose to a lesser extent the American Pie movies), this schtick is getting old fast. Being white myself, I'm always hesitant to declare something racist on behalf of black people, but I'm considering making an exception for him at this point. Even if it doesn't qualify, it is at the very least uncomfortably flat, and sad coming from someone we know can be so much better.

Overall, Madea's Witness Protection is, at least from my vantage point, on the better part of the spectrum for this series. That being said, the usual disclaimer applies that this is only a statement made relative to the rest of the franchise, and not compared to movies in general. Compared to all other movies not written and or directed by Tyler Perry, fat suit or no fat suit, these movies are all some degree of terrible. That being said, if you've got a blog and need to watch all of them because you arbitrarily decided it would make for an interesting retrospective series, this one won't make you want to gouge your eyes out nearly as much as the first, second, and fifth ones will. Hm, I guess that means I actually think a slight majority of these movies are barely watchable. That's more than I expected.

Food for thought.

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