Once again relying on the mix of raucous humor, sudsy sentiment and spiritual uplift that drew urban ticketbuyers (and, to a limited degree, crossover auds) to the first two pics based on his popular stage plays, writer-director Tyler Perry aims squarely at his target demo with “Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns.” Comedy likely won’t do much to expand Perry’s loyal following. But, then again, it just as likely won’t disappoint the folks who made “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” or “Madea’s Family Reunion” muscular performers in theatrical and homevid release.
Even during scenes in which her co-stars are overplaying to the cheap seats in the back rows, Angela Bassett brings a welcome counterbalance of emotional truth and artful precision to her performance as Brenda, a resilient single mother living in a Chicago housing project.
Brenda’s already in dire financial straits when a factory closing leaves her unemployed. Mostly for lack of anything better to do, she responds to an out-of-the-blue summons to attend the funeral of the father she never knew in a small Georgia town.
Arriving with her three offspring, Brenda is greeted with varying degrees of enthusiasm by relatives who are greatly surprised to learn their paterfamilias had a love child in a far-off metropolis. (They also get a few other nasty shocks while uncloseting the skeletons of the dearly departed.) Hard-drinking, wisecracking Vera (tartly played by Jenifer Lewis) assumes the worst about Brenda, but L.B. (Frankie Faison) and wife Sarah (Margaret Avery) warmly embrace her as kinfolk.
The malapropism-prone Mr. Brown (David Mann), a fervently self-dramatizing deacon whose clothing is not merely loud but cacophonous, also accepts Brenda and her brood. But Brenda soon finds herself much more concerned about the obvious interest, and amorous attentions, of Harry, a family friend and former pro basketball player (played, fittingly, by NBA retiree Rick Fox).
“Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns” often plays more like “Tyler Perry’s Greatest Hits” as it recycles various elements from the writer-director’s earlier works. There’s a healthy dose of melodrama — Michael (Lance Gross), Brenda’s basketball-playing teenage son, considers dealing drugs — and a shot at redemptive second-chance romance, along with homespun homilies, conversations about the power of prayer and respectful testimonials to the resilience of African-American women.
At the same time, there also are rude insults, broad caricatures — as Brenda’s best friend, Sofia Vergara is one hot and spicy mamacita — and frequent interludes of sass and squabbling that underscore the material’s stage roots.
Unlike his more recent, relatively conventional “Daddy’s Little Girls” and “Why Did I Get Married?,” Perry’s latest seems an attempt to place a safe bet on a sure thing. Indeed, Perry even makes a cameo appearance in drag as Madea, the trash-talking matriarch of his first two pics (and several plays), in an obvious effort to increase the crowd-pleasing quotient.
Other supporting performances range from exuberantly over-the-top (Mann, Lewis) to inoffensively competent (Fox). Aud is left with the impression that Perry got precisely what he wanted from each actor onscreen (including himself), which is probably what most of his fans will want as well.
Shot on location in Chicago and Georgia, pic boasts production values best described as serviceable.