Review in a Hurry: Don't be fooled: By 90 minutes in, Madea has still not gone to jail. Instead of screwball shenanigans or poignant insight, prolific writer/director/star Tyler Perry gives us a tone-deaf soap opera that'll make you get on your knees and beg for mercy.
The Bigger Picture: It's no secret that even the most slapstick of Perry's movies come with a heavy dose of preaching, something his ample audience has come to count on. But Madea Goes to Jail is a disastrous backfire. The movie's titular matron (Perry in drag) is actually a diversion from the film's cornball melodrama, and will likely inspire jeers, instead of applause, even from his most dedicated fans.
In the opening sequence, we get to know the pistol-packing, fouled-mouthed matriarch with a rap sheet stretching the state of Georgia. And it's easy to see why she is the crown jewel in Perry's box-office empire. She's a boisterous, witty refutation to all her pious bible-banging friends. But her hot temper gets Madea in trouble with the law, and Perry then focuses most of the movie on her statuesque defense team.
There's the handsome humanitarian Josh (Derek Luke) torn between his bootstrapping fiancée (Keshia Knight Pulliam) and his scabby tramp ex-girlfriend. The trio exhausts their time onscreen with tearful monologues about "staying real," "being a good Christian" and "personal responsibility," while the movie zips back and forth between a Sunday sermon and a daytime soap. Watching the characters' absurd levels of tragedy and proselytizing are enough to make anyone throw up their hands and scream: Jee-zus, make it stop!
Sadly, Madea and her low-swinging bowling ball breasts don't really resurface until the final act—and it's too late. By the time she lands in prison, no amount of shenanigans or wisdom can save her from all the tears and clichéd claptrap of this oppressively preachy flick.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Who knows, Madea Goes to Jail could become a campy treasure with a huge cult following. Filled with gaffes and poorly improvised dialogue, it could ensure Perry a steady stream of money with a lifetime of midnight screenings.