Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Malcolm D. Lee
Martin Lawrence ………. Roscoe Jenkins
James Earl Jones ………. Papa Jenkins
Margaret Avery ………. Mamma Jenkins
Joy Bryant ………. Bianca Kittles
Cedric the Entertainer ………. Clyde
Nicole Ari Parker ………. Lucinda
Michael Clarke Duncan ………. Otis
Mike Epps ………. Reggie
Mo’Nique ………. Betty
Damani Roberts ………. Jamaal
Brooke Lyons ………. Amy
Liz Mikel ………. Ruthie
Carol Sutton ………. Ms. Pearl
Deetta West ………. Ms. Addy
Louis C.K. ………. Marty
There seems to be a progression amongst family comedies about change that started off good and has declined since. Two years The Family Stone featured Luke Wilson’s comedic antics stealing the scenes from a relatively strong cast about a family around for one last Christmas. Late in 2007, Dan in Real Life tried to duplicate the formula with the inferior Dane Cook in the comic relief role to Steve Carrell’s straight man in what became a modest box office success. Early in 2008, Martin Lawrence headlines Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins, which has one of the strongest comedic lineups in recent memory. Mike Epps, Cedric the Entertainer and Mo’Nique join Lawrence in the tale of a Springer-like television host (Lawrence) who comes back home for his parents’ wedding anniversary. It’s also a film that is able to jerk a tear but doesn’t know how to scratch a funny bone. The setup is top-notch, though.
R.J, as he’s now called, hasn’t spent much time with his family since he left town. Now as the male equivalent of a young Oprah, he spends his days dealing with the types that only daytime, weekday audiences enjoy on a regular basis. Together with his girlfriend Bianca (Joy Bryant), a Survivor contestant known for her ferocity, they decide accept his parents’ invitation to help celebrate their nuptials with the entire extended family. There’s his sex-crazed sister Betty (Mo’Nique), his oafish sheriff of a brother Otis (Michael Clarke Duncan), his childhood sweetheart (Nicole Ari Parker) and his ultra-competitive cousin Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer). Surviving the weekend may be more than he bargained for as he has to relieve a lot of his childhood memories that made him into what he became.
The film itself just seems like an attempt at updating the formula of a quirky, white family with issues and replacing it with a black, sassy version in the same manner that Tyler Perry’s cinematic excursions aimed at the black Christian majority hark back to the days of wholesome entertainment for a white Christian majority. The problem is that while there’s plenty of real heart-wrenching material dramatic material, the comedy is more reliant on delivery than quality of material.
The funny moments of the film, few and far between, are only funny because of the sort of loud, brashness of most of the cast. It’s not at all that funny, which is why most of it falls relatively flat, but the ones that do connect are because of the gravitas of the performers. This is a deft cast that knows good material; this isn’t it.
It’s a shame because there’s some dynamite material in the dramatic sense. It’s an easily relatable story about measuring up between fathers and sons that is markedly effective. James Earl Jones is supremely effective as a father whose words have always haunted his son, and Cedric and Lawrence have markedly good chemistry as childhood rivals. Malcolm Lee, who shares film-making genetics with his cousin Spike, does a phenomenal job in building up the dramatic tension. We genuinely understand why R.J became the person he did, his trepidations and trials with his family helping him turn into a combination of Jerry Springer and motivational guru. It’s a touching story about how words can hurt more than anything else; Lee does this well. It’s that the film is intended to be funny with a message, and it fails on the first accord spectacularly.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):