In a return to familiar territory for Tyler Perry after his ill-concieved and indifferently received filmization of Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls,” “Madea’s Big Happy Family” finds the prolific multihyphenate offering another lumpy mix of broadly played ethnic comedy, deadly serious soap operatics, and aggressively rousing religious uplift. Pic may help him reconnect with faithful fans who avoided his attempt in “Colored Girls” to play for keeps without playing for laughs. Crossover prospects for this one are minimal at best, but the target African-American aud should be large enough to ensure brisk theatrical and homevid biz.
Once again, what likely will be the main attraction for some ticketbuyers will be a major turn-off for others — Madea, the trash-talking, quick-tempered human steamroller who bullies, berates and/or bamboozles into submission just about every easily intimidated member of her extended Atlanta family. (When it comes to imposing her will on strangers and innocent bystanders, she supplements her sass with claw hammers, large automobiles and other blunt instruments.)
As usual, Perry dons none-too-convincing drag to play — well, OK, overplay — Madea to the hilt. At times, the character’s outlandish behavior smacks of sociopathy. And it’s more than a little laughable — though perhaps not in the way Perry intends — when Madea dresses down the wives and significant others of a friend’s adult children because they are not sufficiently respectful of their men.
But such outrageousness is pretty much what longtime devotees of this franchise have come to expect. And throughout “Big Happy Family,” Perry seems, even more than usual, to be in a crowd-pleasing mode.
The plot, adapted from one of Perry’s many stage plays, pivots on Shirley (affectingly played by Loretta Devine), Madea’s niece, who stoically accepts a diagnosis of terminal cancer as God’s will, and yearns to break the bad news to her loved ones during a family dinner. Unfortunately, those loved ones are too caught up in their own problems to remain together long enough for Shirley to make her announcement.
Kimberly (Shannon Kane), a haughty real-estate broker, keeps her loving husband (Isaiah Mustafa) at arm’s length while refusing to acknowledge a childhood trauma. Byron (Shad “Bow Wow” Moss), newly released after serving time for drug dealing, is tempted by his braying baby momma (a borderline-unbearable Teyana Taylor) to try one more score. And Tammy (Natalie Desselle Reid) refuses to discipline her unruly sons, or respect her mechanic husband (Rodney Perry), until Madea screams some sense into her.
“Madea’s Big Happy Family” plods from one scene to the next at a deliberate pace, repeatedly betraying its theatrical roots as each new conversation or confrontation plays out like the latest in a series of segments in a stage revue. Performances run the gamut from serviceable to silly, a range most vividly illustrated in a subplot involving franchise mainstays Tamela Mann (as Cora, Madea’s daughter) and David Mann (as Cora’s presumptive father). Tech values are unremarkable.