Movie Reviews: Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to JailThe idea of surviving prison definitely supplies one with street cred. Would Rambo be the same if he didn't end up breaking rocks in the prison yard? Would Jean Valjean from Les Miserables have garnered character-forming stripes had he not been inprisoned? Probably not. Tyler Perry has brought his most popular character, the notoriously cranky Madea (played by Perry), to the big house in Madea Goes to Jail. Like prisoners before her, Madea possesses a toughness that says "don't mess with me," granny or not.
Building off of franchise predecessor Meet the Browns, she's the focal point of this film and the glue that binds all of the subplots together. This time around, she's gone too far. After a tennis-playing suburbanite steals her parking space, she gets even. In a zany sequence, Madea commandeers some heavy machinery and forcibly moves the woman's car from the parking space. However, once in front of the judge, Madea can't talk her way out, and she lands herself in the pen. Once she's there, Perry begins his prison movie parody as Madea takes over the big house.
The subplots in this film have a seriousness and maturity to them that hasn't fully been realized in prior Madea films. Hot off a fantastic performance as Puff Daddy in Notorious, Derek Luke plays assistant district attorney Josh Hardaway, who's assigned to Madea's case. However, while he's at court he meets a childhood friend, Candy (Keshia Knight Pulliam), who now happens to be a strung-out prostitute. So Josh attempts to help her out, while offending his fiancé and co-ADA Linda (Ion Overman). Candy lands herself in jail along with Madea, and, of course, Madea plays mom to Candy like only she can.
The jail sequences are sidesplitting, and the comedy never feels overly derivative of other films. Instead, the laughs all generate from Madea's quirkiness. In one instance, Madea promises to "go by the church" post-pardon, but drives by it instead of going in, catalyzing a big argument with the ever-pious Brown (David Mann). In court, she sarcastically proclaims, "Jeez-US" over and over like some kind of crazed televangelist, churning out laughs. Perry plays Joe and Brian in addition to Madea, and he manages to give each character his or her own idiosyncrasies. Plus, he once again wrote and directed this film, but it never feels like a one-man show, even when he's assuming other roles.
Viewers know the character at this point, so there's less exposition here and way more geriatric anarchy. Additionally, Sofia Vergarais fantastically funny as Madea's cell mate T.T.—the nicest serial killer ever. Even though Madea promises to "knock the Spanish out of her," their chemistry bubbles.
The interplay between Luke and Pulliam also is very effective. The drama doesn't get too sappy, and even though it's not deeply developed, the actors play it very well. The moments that border on tear-jerking don't get preachy, and it's Luke and Pulliam's performances that keep the drama afloat without falling into absurdity. At some point, the film does feel like comedy for the Madea-initiated, but most of the time the jokes are funny enough to be accessible for newbies as well.
Ultimately, Perry strikes a solid balance between serious and silly. Getting locked up hasn't been this fun in a long time.
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