Tyler Perry, I Can Do Bad All By Myself

Quantrell Colbert/Lionsgate

Review in a Hurry: The first half of Tyler Perry's latest Madea movie is enough to give a cynic hope in more ways than one, as the evangelical auteur integrates the humor and morality lectures more deftly and effectively than usual. Sadly, the barrage of "inspirational" musical numbers in the second half stops the narrative dead in its tracks.

The Bigger Picture: No doubt, critics nationwide are champing at the bit to mock this movie's title, but to do so would be too easy. Assessing Perry strictly on his own terms, there are merits here: The shtick between Perry's onscreen alter-egos Madea and Joe feels more finely honed than in the past, and Taraji P. Henson's performance as the obligatory fallen woman April blends tragedy and comedy with one hell of a singing voice.

And the first part of the story, in which April's unruly nephews and niece break into Madea's house and get a sassy lesson, is a nice bit of audience wish fulfillment. Perry-in-drag gets to say to these kids things we all wish we could yell at other people's annoying children sometimes. Even the obligatory new love interest for April—to counterbalance her cartoonishly abusive rich-and-married boyfriend of the moment (Brian White)—is an interesting surprise: a Mexican immigrant named Sandino (Adam Rodriguez) who may even be illegal, yet is clearly the best Christian of the bunch. Showing up in a ludicrous fake beard and a wig less convincing than Madea's, he quickly gets the full-on beauty parlor makeover to become the perfect hunk. We'll say this for him, he's better in the typecast role than previous Perry-fave Rick Fox.

Then Madea disappears from the story, and if you never thought you'd miss her, well, that gets put to the test. April works in a nightclub, and of course, given the genre, you know that a church will figure into the plot, but both feel like excuses to shoehorn in a bunch of songs, a device that likely worked better in Perry's original stage play than it does here. As a director, he shows little interest in becoming more visually inventive, and his staging of the tunes is uninspired and cinematically tedious, though if you already adore the music this probably won't be an issue.

Fans of Perry should find everything they need here, and deserve a heads-up that even if the finale becomes too predictable for them, there's a gag reel at the end that's worth the wait.

The 180—A Second Opinion: It's amusing to note how Perry's stance on smoking has evolved—Madea used to be a proud puffer, but here it's used as a behavior that clearly denotes the presence of evil.

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