MADEA GOES TO JAIL
Written, Directed and Produced by Tyler Perry
I’m pretty sure that if I ever ran into Tyler Perry and asked him why he titled this movie MADEA GOES TO JAIL when she actually spends a relatively short amount of the movie’s 103 minutes in jail he would most likely answer: “Well, I never said she would spend the whole movie in jail.” Which actually would be a pretty reasonable answer. Madea does go to jail and she does raise her unique brand of hell while she’s there. But the movie takes quite a bit of time to set up the situation and it involves two separate and different plots. So different are they that at times I felt as if I were watching two completely different movies edited together.
Mabel “Madea” Simmons (Tyler Perry) is the aggressive, chain-smokin’, pistol packin’, ass-kickin’, trash-talkin’ matriarch of a large Southern family. Despite her…ahem…shortcomings, Madea is the source of wisdom and the moral compass of her family. Whenever she shows up you know that things are going to be put right. The problem is keeping her own self out of trouble long enough for her to keep the rest of the family straight. After yet another incident where she led police on an extended high speed chase, Madea has had her driving license suspended which means she must depend on her daughter Cora (Tamela Mann) to drive her around. And she must attend anger management counseling sessions with none other than Dr. Phil himself. Both situations are driving Madea crazy and it’s only a matter of time until she blows a fuse again.
While Madea is trying hard not to kill anyone and land in jail, Assistant District Attorney Joshua Hardaway (Derek Luke) gets involved in a case that has deep personal meaning for him: his old childhood friend Candy Washington (Keisha Knight Pulliam) has become a drug addicted prostitute. The two of them are bound together by a dark secret that they find too painful to talk about. A secret that happened during their college days when Joshua was a star football player but Candy was lonely and depending on her friend for support and comfort. Joshua’s efforts to help his old friend doesn’t sit too well with his fiancée and fellow Assistant District Attorney Linda Holmes (Ion Overman) Linda doesn’t understand why Joshua is so adamant about helping his old friend since he plainly isn’t “one of those people”
The two plots fuse together when Madea does indeed get sentenced to jail and so is Candy. Both of them end up in the same prison and it’s Madea who comes to Candy’s rescue when she’s harassed by Big Sal (Robin Coleman) an inmate fully as formidable as Madea herself.
When MADEA GOES TO JAIL it’s funny. Very funny in fact. By now, Tyler Perry plays the character as well as Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello. There’s plenty of fun to be had with such an outrageous character and Tyler Perry knows how to get the maximum laughs out of her. Now, on the flip side, when MADEA GOES TO JAIL is serious, it’s very serious. Like I said earlier, it’s as if you’re getting two movies in one. You get the comedy from the story of Madea trying her level best not to lose her temper, shoot or slug somebody and go to jail. Then you get the serious drama of Joshua trying to pull Candy out of the hell of prostitution and drug addiction while keeping peace with Linda. It’s the most schizophrenic movie I’ve seen in quite a while. Not that it’s boring but just when you’ve had a big belly laugh watching Madea handle her business with a Miss Prissy who has taken her parking spot Tyler Perry cuts to a heartbreaking scene with Candy brutalized by a sadistic pimp.
Tyler Perry has assembled a wonderful cast in this one. The real surprise for me was Keisha Knight Pulliam. Little Rudy Huxtable has grown up. Man, has she ever. And her acting talent has grown as well. I was halfway into the movie before I realized who she was. She and Derek Luke have a wonderful chemistry together and somebody should put them together in another movie as soon as possible. They were nothing less than honest in every scene they were in and they had me convinced they were childhood friends grown up and grown apart. Vanessa Ferlito plays Candy’s fellow prostitute and best friend Donna. Vanessa Ferlito was memorable in “Death Proof” mainly for the lap dance she gave Kurt Russell’s character. She’s a solid player in this one. As is the rest of the cast, including a plethora of cameos that are both surprising and fun to see.
So should you see MADEA GOES TO JAIL? If you’ve seen previous Tyler Perry movies then you know what to expect from this one. Tyler Perry has been accused of pandering to African-American audiences with stereotypical, simple plots that rely far too much on soap opera/comedy than story. And I can see that. Either one of the plots in MADEA GOES TO JAIL could have stood alone as its own story. It would have been fun to have seen Madea really go nuts in jail for the whole movie and the Joshua/Candy romance has more than enough drama to have supported its own film. It’s as if Tyler Perry didn’t have enough confidence in either story to expand them into full length features and instead smooshed ‘em together. Derek Luke and Keisha Knight Pulliam can certainly carry a whole movie on their backs.
But that’s just my idle speculation. The bottom line is I enjoyed MADEA GOES TO JAIL. The comedy and the drama worked for me. I just think that there was too much of one and not enough of the other. Which is which is up to you to decide if you see this one. And there’s no reason why you shouldn’t.