Friday, September 18, 2009


As entertaining as the latest Madea comedy is, writer & director Tyler Perry’s seventh movie “I Can Do Bad All By Myself” (*** out of ****) doesn’t generate half as much humor and heartache as earlier Madea entries. No, “I Can Do Bad” doesn’t top “Madea Goes to Jail.” First, not only does everybody’s favorite pistol-packing grandmother Maybelle "Madea" Simmons not pack a pistol, but she also spends more time off screen. In other words, she doesn’t break the law and end up either in court or jail. She qualifies more as a supporting character used for comic relief. Second, “I Can Do Bad All By Myself” boasts no surprises. Indeed, most of this sermonizing melodrama about seeking redemption from Jesus focuses on the trials and tribulations of a liquor-swilling lounge warbler who finds her life suddenly turned topsy-turvy when her three motherless niece and nephews as well as a Latino immigrant take up residence in her townhouse.

No, despite its inspirational message, “I Can Do Bad” probably isn’t designed entirely for Sunday night churchgoers, though there are several religious-themed songs sung. The theme of child abuse rears its ugly head about three-fourths of the way through this 113 minute epic while the heroine wallows in an adulterous affair with another wife’s husband. Usually, if you can figure out a movie before the characters figure out what is happening, the movie isn’t as imaginative. Perry counteracts the wholesale predictability of “I Can Do Bad” with a charismatic cast, including Taraji P. Henson, Gladys Knight, Adam Rodriguez, Brian White, and Marvin L. Winans.

“I Can Do Bad” gets off on the right foot. Madea (Tyler Perry in a dual cross-dressing role) awakens to the noise of burglars in her house, but she cannot rouse Joe (Tyler Perry) to check out the disturbance. Madea catches Jennifer (Hope Olaide Wilson), Manny (Kwesi Boakye) and Byron (Freddy Siglar) in the act of stealing Joe’s VCR so they can see it for food. Madea and Joe sit this terrible threesome down for a meal and try to pry out of them information about who is responsible for them. Jennifer tries to act tough, but Madea acts tougher. “Honey,” she informs the teenage girl, “I been to jail. I will shank you.” Afterward, Madea goes to work on her two younger brothers who confess that their guardian has been gone for several days. Eventually, Madea learns that they are relatives of April (Taraji P. Henson of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) who sings in a local nightclub. When Madea shows up at April’s front door, the grouchy singer isn’t happy to see them. Typically, April sleeps off her alcoholic binges until the late afternoon with another woman’s husband Randy (Brian White of “12 Rounds”) who cannot stand his own three munchkins and a forthcoming one, too. Basically, Randy manages to foot the bills for both households, but he sleeps with April for obvious reasons.

Tanya (Mary J. Blige of “Prison Song”), who employs April to sing, breaks down and chides her about her selfishness and her alcoholism. April ignores Tanya and keeps on drinking. When matriarchal Madea comes banging on April’s door with the children, April explains that they belong to her sister. April’s sister died from crack abuse, and April’s long-suffering mother now cares for the trio. Nobody knows where April’s mom is until Pastor Brian (gospel star Marvin L. Winans of “Mama, I Want to Sing”) and churchgoing songster Wilma (Gladys Knight of “Hollywood Homicide”) investigate and visit April about 45 minutes into the plot with the tragic news. April’s mother, it seems, climbed aboard a city bus to go to work and died from an aneurism in route. Everybody, including the bus driver, thought that she was sleeping.

Initially, April wants nothing to do with her niece and nephews, but Jennifer is caught shoplifting at a corner drugstore. Byron, it seems, suffers from diabetes and Jennifer knows how to handle it. Of course, Randy is dead set against the kids moving in with April, but teenage Jennifer catches his gimlet eye. Meanwhile, a virile Columbian immigrant who works as a handyman, Sandino (Adam Rodriguez of CBS-TV’s “C.S.I.: Miami”), shows up at Pastor Brian’s Zion Liberty Baptist Church looking for work. Pastor Brian promises to pay him for some church repairs and then sends him over to work out his rent in April’s house. April and Sandino don’t get off on the right foot and Randy doesn’t like him period. She allots space for Sandino in her basement. Meantime, April pawns her relatives off on Madea to repay her for their depredations in her house. Pastor Brian, Wilma, Tanya, and even Sandino go to work on the callous April. When she sees the life of sin that she has been living, the self-destructive singer converts and follows Madea’s advice: "If you give some good things to people, good things come back to you--most of the time."

The themes of juvenile delinquency, selfishness, self-sacrifice, and ego are hammered home through songs and sermons both that often belabor the point and rob it of any shred of subtlety. Henson really shines as the protagonist who sees the light and changes her behavior and Rodriguez emerges as her knight-in-shining armor. Brian White makes a strong impression as the cheating husband. Nevertheless, Madea still trumps them all with her warped sense of humor. The best scene in “I Can Do Bad” has Madea regaling Jennifer with her side-splitting story about Jonah and the whale. “That’s when Noah showed up, with his arch, the St. Louis arch.” It is a tribute to Perry’s skill as a filmmaker and the charisma of his sturdy cast that together they can make you sniffle, sob, and cry aloud at the drop of every cliché in “I Can Do Bad.”