Madea’s Neighbors From Hell: The Play
by Phil Boatwright

Tyler Perry, Cassi Davis, Wess Morgan, Rhonda Davis, Alexis Holins. DVD release from Lionsgate. Not rated. 138 minutes.

FILM SYNOPSIS: Madea is suspicious of a foster mother and her unruly charges. When Tyler Perry’s matronly Madea realizes the children are being mistreated, she finds herself taking justice into her own hands. With Aunt Bam by her side, Madea uses her unique wit and wisdom for handling a troubling situation.

Life lessons: Children should talk to someone when they are being mistreated. Keep talking until someone listens.

PREVIEW REVIEW: The very things Tyler Perry fans appreciate about his filmmaking sensibilities are the very things that annoy me at the movies. So, if Mr. Perry as producer, writer, director and star can do no wrong in your book, then you might as well read no further. Others waiting for Tyler Perry to hit a homerun should read on to see why this time at bat, he strikes out.

Throughout the history of comedy on film, broad comedy has always pleased many filmgoers. I just saw a few minutes of an oft-repeated Three’s Company episode on TV the other night and was reminded why broad humor is not my favorite comedy genre.

In this musical comedy stage production filmed before a very supportive audience, his latest offering manages to further annoy this reviewer with heavy-handed musical numbers, each highlighted by a singing style I unaffectionately tag the Tarzan Yodel. Now, I am in the minority on this point, as this generation seems to be enthralled by singers who highlight each number with a breathy yodel-like vibrato where once singers used texture and phrasing to sell the song. Very few singers today choose to color a note. They prefer blasting it. Of course, if I were able to convince under-thirty-somethings to listen to Billie Holiday sing the blues, Barbra Streisand sing A Piece of Sky from Yentl, or Ella Fitzgerald sing anything, the performances would no doubt go unappreciated. Styles and sensibilities change. To each his own.

Back to Madea/Perry. I actually like the character as “she” cuts through the baloney and, while being very earthy, also reveals a reverence for our Creator. But you really have to suspend your disbelief when watching this character on screen. The man in mammy-drag seems surreal in the world of the close-up movie camera, especially when handling sensitive issues.

Perry is as subtle as a jackhammer, with each and every character going over the top with a wink-wink performance. The writer/director lingers around a scene until he’s absolutely sure the point has been made – and made, and made.

Mr. Perry is one of the few filmmakers who injects some spirituality into his films. He’s not afraid to show a character pray or show people attending church services. Of course, he never allows such themes to override crude humor, but at least he unapologetically states that we are spiritual as well as mental and physical beings. Despite his filmmaking weaknesses, Tyler Perry has often delivered laughs as well as a bit of pathos within his projects. Madea’s Neighbors From Hell: The Play is the exception to the rule. Although the writer/actor found his creations amusing, breaking character often to let you know you were watching funny stuff, mostly the production was just vexing, irritating. The broadness of the gags and dialogue seems forced, with nearly every actor getting his chance to emote as if auditioning for a better movie.

There’s a great filmmaker waiting to be unleashed from the writer/actor/producer/director who hides behind the Madea fatty padding. But though Charlie Chaplin could put his name under several credits of a movie scroll, only a handful of successive filmmakers could dominate a film by doing everybody else’s job. It’s not a medium designed for a one-man army. Tyler, let someone else produce and someone else direct. Rewrite your rewrites. And have an acting coach on set.

That said, Jerry Lewis also thought he could be Chaplin by performing before and behind the camera. Some say he succeeded; others differ in their assessment of his abilities. But Jerry always made money for his studios. So does Tyler Perry. They make movies for their following, not their peers and certainly not for critics. Hard to argue with that. But he gets rich and moviegoers get mediocrity.

While he addresses serious issues facing people in the black community and, indeed, the entire community of man, Tyler Perry knows not the meaning of “less is more.” The saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Mr. Perry gives us the picture, the thousand words, then nine thousand more.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Distributor: Lionsgate

Content Summary

Crude Language: None
Obscene Language: Several minor expletives, but no harsh language.
Profanity: None
Violence: The children have been threatened by an abusive woman.
Sex: None
Nudity: None
Drugs: None
Running Time: 138 min.
Intended Audience: Teens and up