Directed by Tyler Perry. Cast: Rochelle Aytes, Lisa Arrindell Anderson, Lynn Whitfield, Tyler Perry, Blair Underwood, Boris Kodjoe, Keke Palmer, Cicely Tyson, Maya Angelou, Georgia Allen, Jenifer Lewis, Tangi Miller, Henry Simmons, China Anderson, Akhil Jackson, Alonzo Millsap, Cassi Davis, Leon Lamar, John Lawhorn, Philipia Williams. 2006 110 minutes Rated: (for mature thematic material, violence, sex and drug references).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 11, 2013.
With the surprise sleeper success of 2005's "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" (the film grossed over $50-million on a slim $5.5-million budget), Tyler Perry mania shifted into high gear with a new brand from which Lionsgate Films continues to make a mint eight years later. His follow-up picture, "Madea's Family Reunion," is erratically uneven to the point of making "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" seem like a study in cinematic understatedness in comparison. The directorial debut of Perry, who also writes, produces, composes the music and stars in three different rolesone has to wonder if he did the catering, toothe picture marries warbly-scored soap opera theatrics with spurts of broad comedy (mostly via the feisty, ol' Madea) and asks that viewers take it seriously. Much of the time, that's too tall an order.
Following her latest scrape with the law, Madea (Tyler Perry) is assigned by the court to take in and care for parentless 12-year-old Nikki (Keke Palmer). In the midst of preparations for the first big reunion her extended family has thrown in five years, Madea is determined to smack some sense into Nikkiliterallywhile also inspiring her to start taking her schooling and future seriously. Meanwhile, two of Madea's nieces are being tested in their own ways. Lisa (Rochelle Aytes) is newly engaged to possessive, filthy-rich attorney Carlos (Blair Underwood), but desperately wants to get out of the relationship when he continues to beat on her. Leaving him is not so easy, though, when he makes it clear she won't be getting out alive. For Lisa's older sis, Vanessa (Lisa Arrindell Anderson), she is determined to be a better mother than their own, the conniving, iron-fisted Victoria (Lynn Whitfield), and must learn to trust bus-driving single father Frankie (Boris Kodjoe) when he shows an interest in her.
Subtlety is not on the menu of "Madea's Family Reunion." The characters are entertaining in an over-the-top, almost campy way, but, with the exception of the loud-mouthed but loving Madea, they're not supposed to be. Lisa is continuously hit by Carlos, but sticks around with him because her terrible, selfish mother wants her to. When she does finally get some sense, she chooses to sneak out in the middle of the night with him in bed right next to her. Even after he tries to drag her out to the balcony and throw her to her death, she stays, never considering the option of packing her bags while he's at work every day. Dark family secrets arise when an awful revelation from Vanessa's past comes to fruition, yet it is still not red flag enough to inspire Lisa to take action against her fiancé. Let us not make mention of the horrifically garish climactic wedding, complete with black women hanging from the ceiling in angel costumes. It is definitely as creepy as it sounds. The performances in "Madea's Family Reunion" are sincere to a fault, and Maya Angelou classes things up for a spell as the wise, natch, Aunt May. Tyler Perry means well, but there is no denying that all of this would work far better on daytime television.