The much-abused hero of this family-reunion comedy shares his first name with a Los Angeles restaurant chain best known for its chicken ‘n’ waffles — a delicious if artery-clogging combo. As soul food goes, Roscoe’s signature dish still digests more smoothly, and satisfyingly, than “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins,” an in-your-face double helping of fat jokes, crude slapstick, wacky Southern-black stereotypes and occasionally inspired improv — sort of like a BET remake of “Dan in Real Life” in which Martin Lawrence gets smacked around a lot. Pic’s target audience should eat it up; others, not so much.
Lawrence plays successful Hollywood talkshow host RJ Stevens — that’s Roscoe Jenkins to his folks — who’s heading home for his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration. Roscoe hasn’t seen the family in nine years, and auds will understand why upon meeting his gruff dad (James Earl Jones, oozing authority), who’s always given preferential treatment to Roscoe’s attention-hogging, super-competitive cousin Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer).
Rounding out the clan are Roscoe’s sweet-natured mom (Margaret Avery) and boisterously obnoxious siblings: sly con artist Reggie (Mike Epps), tough-lovin’ family man Otis (Michael Clarke Duncan) and plus-sized diva Betty (the irrepressible Mo’Nique). Generally unimpressed with his celebrity status, Roscoe’s relations love nothing more than to torture him, reminding him of past mistakes and opening the occasional (well-deserved) can of whup-ass when he tries to fight back.
Also there to dredge up unpleasant memories and stir up competitive male hormones is Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker), the beauteous young woman whom Roscoe and Clyde fought over years ago. Predictably, this doesn’t sit well with Roscoe’s shallow fiancee Bianca (Joy Bryant, who deserves better), a pampered-princess type who refers to their impending marriage as an “alliance.”
Roscoe also has a young son, Jamaal (Damani Roberts), who’s trotted out every so often to look cutely neglected and give this noisy, aggressive movie some semblance of an emotional core. The ploy would be more successful if writer-director Malcolm D. Lee (“Undercover Brother,” “Roll Bounce”) didn’t swing at every comic target with all the restraint of two unneutered dogs in the throes of passion — an image that, incidentally, comes directly from the movie.
As the misunderstood Roscoe, Lawrence gamely cedes the comic spotlight to Epps, Duncan and Mo’Nique — skillful performers all, and Lee often lets them run their mouths off long after the cameras would have ordinarily stopped rolling. While the effect is pretty hit-or-miss, this directorial indulgence does yield some amusing off-the-cuff banter amid the general pile-up of physical pratfalls and cloying daddy issues. (Pic seems wholly unaware of the irony that Roscoe, having never earned his dad’s love, also mistreats his own son.)
Louisiana-lensed production looks slick and professional; musically, however, pic veers between overemphatic emotional cues and a rap/pop/R&B soundtrack that couldn’t have been cheap.