March 27, 2008

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Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns (PG-13)
Tyler Perry straps on the Madea suit for a little comedy garnish to the otherwise mostly dramatic Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns, the story of a single mother struggling to raise her three children.

Brenda (Angela Bassett) is a single mom with three kids by three different men, none of whom appear to be terribly interested in helping her raise or even pay for one of them. Her oldest son Michael (Lance Gross) appears to have become a star child in spite of their hardships — helping his mom take care of his two younger sisters and working hard to excel at both high school and basketball. For this reason, she won’t let him work, not even when she loses her job because her plant closes. After a series of setbacks, she decides to use the bus tickets she got in the mail to go from Chicago to Georgia to attend her father’s funeral. She never knew her father and has never met his family but she’s at a loss for what else to do and, as her friend Cheryl (Sofia Vergara) reminds her, maybe her father left her something.

Thusly do Brenda and her kids meet the Browns — the goofy Leroy (David Mann), the sweet daughter-of-Madea Cora (Tamela J. Mann), the diva-ish Vera (Jenifer Lewis), the paterfamilias and older brother L.B. (Frankie Faison) and his kind wife Sarah (Margaret Avery). And she meets Brown family friend Harry (Rick Fox), who just happens to be the same coach who tried to convince her son to let him coach him back in Chicago. Turns out he’s a former pro ball player whose new career involves training the next generation. So when he starts to get sweet on her, Brenda and the more suspicious members of the Brown family — namely, Vera — wonder, does Harry truly see a future with Brenda or just a future paycheck in Michael?

As with all Tyler Perry stories, the love story is only part of the soap opera that is squished into 100 minutes. Threads reminding you about the importance of family, the power of faith (here just sort of general faith — we don’t get a lot of specific God talk) and the general goodness of “living right” help fill out the story. None of these messages is particularly new for Perry, though, as melodramatic as the movie gets, I do think he’s starting to tame some of his impulses to be the Michael Bay of emotion (with explosive family secrets replacing the actual ka-booms). And this movie is arguably better-acted than some of his early Madea outings.

That said, the movie doesn’t do anything new, doesn’t give Perry any opportunity to stretch, and there’s still a pretty big difference between being “arguably better-acted” and being “well-acted.” Perry will probably rake in plenty of cash for this somewhat retread-ish story but you sense that he’s still got a few better movies in him somewhere. C-

Rated PG-13 for drug content, language including sexual references, thematic elements and brief violence. Written and directed by Tyler Perry, Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns is an hour and 40 minutes long and distributed by Liongsate in wide release.