You’ve got to hand it to Tyler Perry, whether you want to or not.
He’s done what few have been able to achieve by carving a successful filmmaking niche, a prolific studio with his name and face-in-drag as the brand, hauling in over half a billion bucks at the box office to date. His audience remains faithful, even though critics can’t help but ask why whenever he releases a new film. One only need look at the disparity of ratings between Roger Ebert and his readers when it came to his assessment of “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” over at his web site.
Perry’s latest is “Madea’s Witness Protection,” another dip into the Madea ATM machine. Eugene Levy stars as a clueless CFO named George Needleman who discovers he’s been set-up as the fall guy for a massive Ponzi scheme involving the mob at his Wall Street firm. As George is tapped by the prosecution to build a case against is former colleagues, he and his troubled family are placed under witness protection, landing them in the home of Perry’s violently dragalicious Madea Simmons.
Like the tragically insulated artist that is George Lucas, Perry being the master of his own Madeaverse can serve not just as a boon, but as a creative hindrance as well. “Witness Protection” is a light comedy of race, occasionally delving into good ol’ fashioned themes of family values as well. Such simple pleasures require a touch of brevity, something Perry lacks. “Witness Protection” doesn’t need hedge clippers taken to its flabby story, so much as it needs a chainsaw to pair it down.
In a scene of mildly cruel hilarity, Madea messes with George’s disrespectful daughter by falsely informing her in graphic detail about how her entire family had been murdered by the mob while she was at school, causing the daughter realize how horrible she’s been to her family. It’s a rare scene that deftly wraps up a subplot brilliantly, yet “Witness Protection” is otherwise littered with side characters and half-baked plots that only serve to add calories to a light comedy dish. For every amusingly executed scene, there are five redundant ones that can’t seem to make their point and just move on.
The mention of Perry’s name usually elicits sneers and groans of disdain in most circles, however my first outing with him could best be described as lukewarm. Perry’s Madea films, or at least this one, recall some of Adam Sandler’s output: lowbrow comedies that crudely explore wholesome themes. Both Perry and Sandler have found success in their own niche, and neither have to answer to anyone. What you get from this situation is work that is formally flawed, yet completely sincere and one hundred percent their own.