After watching Tyler Perry’s Awkward Attempt at Action Stardom less than a month ago, it was oddly comforting to see the multi-media superstar back in his wheelhouse. Don’t get me wrong: I like to see a performer expand his horizons. It’s just that Perry looks infinitely more comfortable in his signature character’s wig and muumuu than tracking down a serial killer and grimly saying things like “I will meet his soul at the gates of hell before I let him take a person that I love from me.”
So it’s no surprise to see the actor/writer/director’s latest in-house production truly comes to life whenever Perry throws on heavy makeup or an outrageous costume. Unfortunately, the rest of Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection isn’t very good.
Perry stars as Brian Simmons, an Atlanta-based federal prosecutor handling the case of George Needleman (Eugene Levy). In a plotline straight out of 2008, the meek, clueless Needleman has been framed for perpetrating a Ponzi scheme/money laundering scam. Since George is innocent, he decides to cooperate with the federal government, which puts him in the crosshairs of some nasty mobsters. Afraid to use a standard safe house, Brian decides to stash the Jewish/white bread Needlemans in the last place anyone would look for them: his Aunt Madea’s house. (I saw an episode of Dateline the other day detailing how the government does this sort of thing all the time.) Perry also turns up as Joe, Brian’s cranky dad who argues with Madea almost as often as he asks to borrow money.
Of course, the broad comedy is once again window dressing for the family values in Perry’s films, a formula that has made him wildly popular among faith-based audiences. In this case, Madea encourages George and
trophy wife Kate (Denise Richards) to stand up for themselves, while teaching their bratty teenage daughter Cindy (Danielle Campbell) a lesson about respecting her elders. There’s also a thoroughly inessential subplot with a young man (Romeo Miller) trying to save his church after being defrauded by Needleman’s company.
At this point, Madea has become somewhat of a superhero — watch her easily foil a robber in her opening scene — and the larger-than-life character is responsible for the film’s best moments. Perry also brings an impressive amount of character and detail to his crotchety performance as Joe. With those two maniacs in his back pocket, Perry’s work as Brian is comically bland.
The rest of the cast doesn’t fare nearly as well. Levy is an affable, gifted comedic actor, but here he’s asked to play up the shrillest parts of his personality as a flustered sap. Meanwhile, Richards and Miller are locked up in a tight battle to see who can give the worst performance in the film. Miller is annoying and over-the-top, while Richards is painfully flat. (In stark contrast to the parts of her body that get her cast in films.) Thankfully, Doris Roberts (as senile grandmother Barbara) and Tom Arnold (as a sleazy, unethical colleague of George’s) know their way around sitcom-y zingers. It was also nice to see ‘70s comedy staples John Amos and Marla Gibbs pop up, even if their roles were almost completely inconsequential.
The storytelling is also a mess, as Perry the filmmaker still hasn’t shaken his stage roots. Besides being totally unimaginative behind the camera, he allows too many scenes to linger for way too long as Madea, Joe (and even Levy) continue to riff without abandon. (A good editor would’ve easily chopped 15 minutes off the 115-minute running time.) Meanwhile, the mafia subplot goes absolutely nowhere and Perry tosses in a completely unnecessary connection between Joe and Barbara.
The only inspired bit of lunacy comes toward the end, when Madea finds a role model in Whoopi Goldberg’s Oscar-winning performance from Ghost. (The sheer randomness of this turn of events was great.) Other than that, Perry’s film is about as subtle as a six-and-a-half-foot-tall, 200-plus-pound angry black woman.
Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 36 mbps. Since we already covered how Perry isn’t exactly the most visually inventive director in the world, you won’t be shocked to hear that there isn’t much to see here. The stuff that is shown, however, comes through very sharply. Colors are nice and saturated, particularly during the opening scenes in the Needlemans’ posh home. Black levels are ok, and flesh tones are nice and even. More care and thought was probably put into this Blu-ray presentation than Perry put into how he wanted his movie to look while he was filming.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track doesn’t give us very much in the way of immersion, once again revealing Perry’s bare bones theatrical roots. At least the dialogue comes through clearly and (especially) loudly enough. The rear speakers only roar to life during the obligatory gospel music scene and during an argument between Madea and Joe, who are eavesdropping on George and Kate from a different room.
All of the bonus material is presented in HD.
Tyler Perry: Multi Hats & Costumes: (5:57) The rest of the cast sing Perry’s praises, marveling at the way he juggles his multiple characters as well as his acting/directing duties. It really is amusing to occasionally hear Perry’s naturally deep voice come out of his Madea costume.
Thank Yur, Hellur: Impersonating Madea: (3:15) A mini-doc exploring the appeal of Madea’s brash, tough-talking personality (and the Atlanta-flavored accent that comes along with it). Nothing is revealed that Tyler Perry fans don’t already know. Some fellow cast members — including Denise Richards and Romeo Miller — take their turns briefly impersonating her.
The Needlemans: (4:57) Perry talks about his desire to apply his Madea character to a fish-out-of-water story. Also explores the Needleman family, aka the most annoying part of the movie.
Madea’s Fun House: (3:57) Pretty standard gag reel. Again, it’s funny watching Perry direct people in his normal voice while he’s in costume; makes him seem schizophrenic.
Madea’s Comedy Icons: (6:13) It’s nice to see John Amos (Good Times) and Marla Gibbs (The Jeffersons) get a shout-out here, despite their tiny roles. Emmy winner Doris Roberts (Everybody Loves Raymond) and Eugene Levy (American Pie, Best in Show) also get their due, though I feel like we’re getting a little loose with the word “icon.”
Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection felt like the mogul’s attempt to broaden his most popular character’s appeal by imposing a formulaic, fish-out-of-water/mafia-flavored story on what he’s been doing to great fanfare for years. Instead, the project shone a brighter spotlight on his shortcomings as a filmmaker.
There’s plenty of Perry’s traditional/outlandish material to keep his loyal followers satisfied, but I doubt this will win him many new fans if this was their first exposure to Madea’s brand of madness.