February 14, 2008

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Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins (PG-13)
Martin Lawrence is a slick TV talk show host who returns to his not-so-slick beginnings as the frequent butt of the jokes of his large family in a small Georgia town in Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, an adequately funny story about familial love and discord.

Roscoe Jenkins (Lawrence) is Dr. R.J. Stevens to the fans of his Jerry Springer-like TV show and his self-help philosophy about the “Team of Me.” He’s recently delighted his fans even more by joining his celebrity with that of Bianca (Joy Bryant), a Survivor star. But all this self-made fame has come at the price of losing contact with his somewhat disapproving parents and varyingly flawed siblings and cousins back home. As his parents (James Earl Jones, Margaret Avery) prepare for their 50th wedding anniversary and word of Roscoe and Bianca’s engagement gets out, Roscoe’s mom calls to invite/bully him, Bianca and Roscoe’s son Jamaal (Damani Roberts), whose mother is a seldom-mentioned first wife/girlfriend, to come home for the event. Roscoe, in part persuaded by Bianca, who thinks the trip will make a great bit of publicity, decides to make the trek and, from the moment they board the plane in Los Angeles, the trip is a complete disaster.

Some spilled beet juice, too-tight patchwork pants, a con-artist cousin (Mike Epps), a big-mouth sister (Mo’Nique), a competitive childhood friend (Cedric the Entertainer) and a teenage sweetheart (Nicole Ari Parker) later and the previously cool and composed Roscoe is all tied up in knots about his unresolved feelings over not meeting his father’s expectations, not winning over the girl of his dream and how to survive the remains of the trip.

None of this sounds particularly funny or fresh, I know. But like a satisfactorily entertaining sitcom — some King of Queens or Two and a Half Men on a cold winter’s night, for example — the execution of Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins is generally more amusing than not, more successful than not and more enjoyable than it is painful. Sometimes that margin may seem too close (Mo’Nique’s character can be particularly grating; the reignited romance between Roscoe and the apple of his teenage eye is probably unnecessary) but then something funny enough will happen (Mo’Nique’s character’s weird fixation with her cousin; Bianca’s hyper-aggressive sense of competition) and you’ll forget that you were fantasizing about being able to fast forward through the movie. The characters are more types than fully developed people but — and perhaps this is a credit of the basically capable cast — they do the most possible with the limited material they’re given.

I don’t know that “adequately funny” is enough to justify the purchase of a movie ticket. But if for some reason you find yourself in the theater and you can dial your expectations to zero, the generally genial nature of Martin Lawrence and the involuntary snicker at any joke made at the expense of one of those tiny, girlie, Paris Hilton dogs will keep you from getting up and walking out. C

Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language and some drug references. Written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins is an hour and 54 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Universal.