Studio: Lionsgate Pictures
US Rating: Rated PG-13 - Mature Thematic Material, Drug Content, Some Violence and Sexual Situations
Film Length: 103 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1, English and Spanish 2.0
Subtitles: French and Spanish
Review Date: June 28, 2009
The Film - out of
The world of Tyler Perry may seem broad – with a run of successful plays, films and now two television shows on the TBS network, but his world is actually very small. It is his success that is broad. Whether you love his work or loathe it, the effect of his appeal and his resultant success is undeniable as he has built an empire by telling stories of family, failure, fortune and faith.
One side of Tyler Perry’s empire is a more serious toned exploration of fidelity, family and faith. Madea Goes To Jail is the flip side of Perry’s entertainment coin. Films with his Madea character are, first and foremost, brash and slapstick inspired, seeking the broadest, easiest laugh possible by indulging in his collection of caricatures. The Madea character has been barreling through misadventure for several films; spouting off absurdly rude and outrageously offensive rants, getting mad then getting even – finding herself in trouble but always believing herself to be right regardless of her action or the severity of her impact. In last year’s Meet the Browns, Madea found herself being chased by the police in a high speed pursuit before the credits rolled, and in Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes To Jail we pick up with that story thread and are introduced to a set of characters set in the judicial world
The dramatic thread associated with the Madea antics has Assistant District Attorney Joshua Hardaway (played by Derek Luke) being assigned a case to defend a prostitute and drug addict Candace Washington (played by The Cosby Show’s Keshia Knight Pulliam) only to realize that this unfortunate young lady is the friend he grew up with all the way to college, before a terrible night sent their paths in different directions. ADA Joshua is engaged to fellow ADA Linda Holmes (played by Ion Overman), but their relationship is strained as he goes out of his way to help out his old friend. His attention to ‘this prostitute’ brings out a jealous side of his fiancée. Eventually, Candace is jailed for crimes beyond what she has committed (thanks to the jealous ADA) and meets up with Madea, sentenced to several years herself for an overt act of vehicular aggression (in quite a humorous scene). Through the melodrama of Joshua’s help of his prostitute friend, his resurfacing guilt over a tragic evening and the unethical actions of his fiancée is a smattering of silliness at the hands of Tyler Perry in his Madea garb and in make-up, aged as his old uncle – along with the impossibly silly but earnestly faithful Mr. Brown.
Madea Goes To Jail is no better and no worse than Perry’s other Madea misadventures. If you are a fan of Madea’s Family Reunion and Diary of a Mad Black Woman, then this film will surely not disappoint. But if you hunger for dramatic/comedic tales drawn with a thinner brush than Perry’s film’s tend to do; if you have a penchant for characters rather than caricatures, then Madea’s trip to the big house will leave you wishing for something more. Performances are commensurate with Perry’s talents as a writer, with the wonderful Viola Davis as an outreach minister elevating the material. Derek Luke does well here, perhaps looking better for the melodramatic and overplayed performances from the actresses his is paired with, particularly Keshia Knight Pulliam, setting about as much distance as she possible could between herself and her Cosby years as a strung out hooker. But she plays it too hard; excising any subtly the performances should have shown.
As I stated in my review of the better The Family That Preys, Tyler Perry’s work has matured considerably since he lit up the cinemas with 2005’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman, but the simplicity of his stories has not. He populates his films with characters designed to serve limited capacities and with limited complexity. The maturity of his films is demonstrated by people in his stories that are less and less caricatures; people painted with a wide brush; of limited scope and purposes of frustrating transparency. The amount of road he has yet to travel to accomplish a true dramatic or comedic triumph can be seen clearly in Madea Goes to Jail.
Lionsgate brings home Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail to DVD in a reasonably average presentation. Presented in what is noted as a ‘DVD Screen Format’ of 1.78:1 and 16X9 enhanced (The theatrical ratio was 1.85:1), it comes with a generally good array of colors and is free of dirt and debris. But as with the release of his other theatrical films to DVD, the main concern is the softness of the image and the lack of finer details where you might have expected to find it. The image is bright, pleasing and clean but could have been sharper.
With available Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio options, Madea’s trip to the big house sounds great when the songs are called into focus – with good bass action and good clarity throughout the speakers, but at other times doesn’t really do much. The audio serves the film’s purpose, but could have been so much more.
Madea is Back – (6:47) – A quick look at bringing the crazy Madea character back to the big screen with plenty of praise from producers and actors associated with the film.
Leroy ‘Law’ Brown – (1:58) – A fake TV commercial with Mr. Brown advertising his services in the law profession.
Looking for the Big House – (4:00) – Production and producer talent discuss the prison set (in Georgia – a real prison) for some scenes and the cell set build to accommodate the shooting needs.
You Have The Right To Remain Silent – (3:57) – A look at the Madea ‘take-down’ scene where she is finally arrested on her front lawn.
Bringing in the Heavy Hitters – (4:59) – A look at the number of cameo appearances (Judge Mathis, the cast of the view, Dr. Phil and many more).
Madea’s Crazy – (4:40) – A look at Madea’s more outrageous moments and the casting of Madea’s adversary in prison Big Sal (Robin Coleman).
Also from Lionsgate - Trailers for other Tyler Perry product (plays and movies).
This summary accompanied my review of The Family That Prey’s, but it still serves as a concise summary of where the hugely successful Perry stands today. His success should be celebrated as much as it should be a concern. African-American representation in front of and behind the camera is shamefully imbalanced – so when a Tyler Perry comes along, regardless of the overall quality of his work, he is flocked to, supported and loved (by many). But he presents a limited view of African-American lives, challenges and people. His Madea character in particular, while on the surface can be found to be funny, represents a curious double edge of good humor and reliance on stereotyping. There is much value to his film work though he is clearly more comfortable with the stage setting and that infiltrates his movie work too often. I see his characters growing in complexity, but his scripting is still a step or two behind that growth. In the end, it shouldn’t be up to Tyler Perry to represent African-American’s in totality. It should not be his mantle to carry the weight of black representation in film and be lauded as proof that there is art designed primarily to appeal to African-Americans. There should be other voices out there – other options, other perspectives, other stories. So while his work is imperfect, it is still a voice that was not out there before. We simply must have more options – more ways to experience the vast and rich culture – and unique experiences of African Americans beyond Tyler Perry.