Multihyphenate Tyler Perry doffs his Madea disguise and attempts a plain-clothes dramatic lead role in his latest effort, “Good Deeds,” an otherwise unremarkable pic that takes what feels like a very long time to unwind a drearily predictable storyline. Despite the best efforts of Perry and co-stars Thandie Newton and Gabrielle Union to enliven the proceedings with their not-inconsiderable charm, this lightweight Lionsgate release likely won’t appeal to many ticketbuyers or video renters beyond the director’s loyal fanbase.
Perry plays Wesley Deeds, a well-mannered and well-to-do San Francisco businessman who diligently oversees the software business founded by his late father, much to the chagrin of his resentful wastrel brother, Walter (Brian White), who thinks their dad should have left him in charge. Extremely attentive to the expectations of others, Wesley is preparing to wed Natalie (Union), his beautiful fiancee, primarily to please his autocratic mom (Phylicia Rashad as the Clair Huxtable from hell).
Once he encounters Lindsey (Newton), a spirited but stressed young Iraq War widow who works on the cleaning crew in his office building, he instinctively performs various good deeds to help improve her hard-scrabble life with her impossibly cute little daughter (Jordenn Thompson). His intentions are entirely honorable, but one thing leads to another, though by no means quickly enough, and Wesley ultimately finds himself reconsidering his approach to life in general and his marriage plans in particular.
To his credit, Perry manages to avoid at least one or two cliches endemic to this sort of sudser. Natalie could easily have been depicted as a self-centered bitch, a manipulative harpy and/or an unfaithful schemer, so it’s a pleasant surprise to see her winningly played by Union as a sensitive yet discontented lady who’s genuinely concerned for Welsey’s welfare, and not entirely distraught when a roadblock appears on her road to the altar.
Perry effectively shades his own Mr. Nice Guy performance with teasing suggestions that Wesley’s affable surface barely conceals a seething rage (which, not incidentally, may raise expectations for his lead perf in the upcoming thriller “Alex Cross”). When Wesley finally does explode, briefly, the outcome is at once satisfying and unsettling — and, weirdly enough, eerily evocative of a key moment in the recent “Drive.”
More often, however, “Good Deeds” is relentlessly unsurprising in its plotting and borderline comical in its melodramatic flourishes. Newton is quite appealing as the anxious single mom, but her character is far too reminiscent of other flawed femmes fortuitously redeemed in previous Perry pics. And it doesn’t help that changes of heart evidenced by two supporting characters are, even by the flexible standards of feel-good trifles, entirely unconvincing. Truth to tell, it would have been far more believable had Madea shown up and simply slapped some sense into these people.
Production values are what they need to be.