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    Movie Review: Madea's Big Happy Family, Tyler Perry's Best & Funniest Yet?

    Madea’s Big Happy Family, Tyler Perry, Loretta Divine Lionsgate

    Review in a Hurry: Tyler Perry reunites most of his recurring characters in the most broadly comedic of his films to date. Fans of the Madea movies will appreciate that there's actual narrative development here (including a significant cliffhanger), while those with a casual interest may find this the best one to start with. For everyone else, the best we can say is that it isn't terrible.

    The Bigger Picture: If you think it's inherently hilarious for an African-American man dressed up as an old woman to answer the phone by saying "Hellurrr?" your soon-to-be-favorite movie of the year just arrived. Yes, it's another slice of gospel comedy with Madea (Perry), Leroy Brown (David Mann), Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) and their various family members, most of whom are struggling with the usual litany of marital issues and gender roles. It surely spoils nothing at this point to say that all will culminate, as usual, in a big church service, at which a choir will sing and Perry will demonstrate that he still cannot make such a scene cinematically interesting. Given the way his reliable fanbase eats up everything he does like it's manna from heaven, maybe he doesn't have to.

    For once, though, the writer-director doesn't feel the need to intersperse scenes of brutal, abusive violence amid the humor—the serious notes here come from Madea's niece Shirley (Loretta Devine) getting a diagnosis of terminal cancer. Hoping to get the family together for one big dinner where she can announce the bad news, Shirley finds instead that they are all so dysfunctional they can't coexist in the same room for very long. It's up to Madea and her pothead sister Bam to wrangle everyone into place; meanwhile, the neurotic Mr. Brown has a minor health scare of his own.

    At this point, even a nonfan knows so well what to expect from a Perry film that the serious scenes can be just as funny as the comedic ones, in the way they end up hitting every cliché about broken black families you can think of (a drinking game is inevitable). The deliberate comedy works most effectively when it involves Madea hammering some sense into folks who demonstrate the kind of everyday rudeness we'd all like to stand up to, but frequently dare not address. Less appealing are some strangely dated pop-culture references—Chris Tucker in Rush Hour, O.J. attorney Johnnie Cochran and "Pants on the Ground."

    If you've never seen a Madea movie before, this is probably the best and funniest one. But to anyone not already part of the faithful, that isn't necessarily saying a lot.

    The 180—a Second Opinion: Now going by his grown-up name of Shad Moss, Bow Wow goes the extra mile as Shirley's most delinquent child, summoning genuine-seeming tears for scenes that really don't quite deserve them. Relative newcomer Teyana Taylor also provides reliable laughs as his obnoxious baby-mama.

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