Tyler Perry's "Meet the Browns" a letdown

Sun Mar 23, 2008 3:00pm EDT
 
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By Frank Scheck

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - The latest product in the inexhaustible auteur's seemingly inexhaustible assembly line of black-themed films, Tyler Perry's "Meet the Browns" is a decided step back after his more sophisticated recent efforts.

This comedy drama about a single mother, Brenda, struggling with poverty while trying to raise three children in Chicago, features a fine performance by Angela Bassett, but her work is the sole subtle element. The Lionsgate release opened at No. 2 at the weekend box office in North America with estimated sales of $20 million.

As usual, Perry works laudable themes into this effort, like the dangerous lure of the drug trade for young people -- in this case, Brenda's high school basketball son, Michael (Lance Gross), a kid so perfect he cooks breakfast for his mama and addresses her as "ma'am." And he again comes down hard on black men who abandon their children, here exemplified by a character so utterly reprehensible that he should be twirling a mustache.

The film's setting switches midway through to rural Georgia, where Brenda has been summoned for the funeral of the father that she's never met. There she encounters the titular family comprising the usual Perry-brand eccentrics, most notably Leroy (David Mann), a walking sight gag whose high-pitched voice well matches his hideously colored leisure-suit outfits, and the hostile Vera (Jenifer Lewis), who engages in the sort of overly demonstrative mourning that is a staple of cinematic black funerals.

Between hostile encounters with her hostile ex, who resists all her entreaties for financial help, Brenda inexplicably fends off the gently romantic advances of a seemingly perfect basketball coach (played by Rick Fox, formerly of the Los Angeles Lakers) who wants nothing more to help her son enter the big time.

The film demonstrates all too vividly its creator's penchant for soap opera-style melodramatics, absurdly broad comedy and offensively stereotypical characterizations, the latter exemplified by Brenda's best friend, Cheryl (Sofia Vergara), a Latina spitfire who displays her fiery anger and impressive cleavage with equal abandon.

As usual, there are some quietly moving moments woven into the mix that help compensate for the general silliness, including the few scenes between Brenda and a no-nonsense operator of a day-care center (the always terrific Irma P. Hall).

Unfortunately, the film also includes a (thankfully) brief appearance by Perry's drag alter-ego Madea, seen in an inexplicable sequence in which she is pursued, O.J. Simpson-style, by a convoy of police cars. Presumably, it's designed to set the stage for "Madea Goes to Jail," promised to hit theaters in 2010.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

 
<p>Model Eva Pigford (2nd L) and cast members Lance Gross (L-R), Tyler Perry and Angela Bassett pose at the premiere of the film "Tyler Perry's Meet The Browns" in Hollywood, California March 13, 2008. Perry also wrote, produced and directed the film. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>