Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
24Oct/120

Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection (2012)

Tyler Perry has a pretty good track record here on the site and I've said quite a few times how I almost always find something interesting about his films.  Now, unfortunately, I have to add a bit of a qualifier to that.  I think that there is always something about his dramas that are interesting but his comedies have never really panned out as well for me.  It may be that I've never quite been able to shake the odd juxtapositions of his first film featuring Madea going nuts with a chainsaw while a beleaguered woman attempts to drown her crippled ex-husband.

Images like that are potent, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to think of one without remembering the other.  Other viewers of Madea's Witness Protection may come out with a slightly better experience but there's not much here that I can recommend.  There are a few scenes that are aching to be let loose from the drama trappings that Perry seems to feel obligated to put into his film.  This is a bit strange since this is billed as the first straight comedy film that he's done, but can't resist a dip back into that melodrama well.

Madea's Witness Protection opens with a few names that make me nervous when I see that they're appearing in a comedy.  Eugene Levy, Denise Richards, Tom Arnold.  Levy and Arnold I know have the potential to be very funny, and have been in the past.  Richards gets a lot of flack for some very poor film choices, but I also know that she at least has some sense of humor about herself (it's next to impossible to appear in the greatest Brosnan bond film and not.)  Unfortunately, all three have devolved into bland stock archetypes over the last few years and despite my knowledge of their pasts I didn't think much could be done to produce a noteworthy performance.

Perry is able to wrangle a few laughs just by letting a little Madea make a big impact in quick moments.

Most of my fears were confirmed as the film progressed but not entirely in the ways I anticipated.  Levy plays George Needleman, yet another put-upon Jewish businessman that he's perfected into cheap-suit blandness since American Pie.  His boss (Arnold) has set him up as the fall guy for a Ponzi-scheme that CNBC is dead set on revealing to the world, and 70 of the 82 charities that he thinks he's assisting are actually run by the mafia.  This set-up did not fill me with a lot of hope, as mafia-based comedies tend to be the worst comedies ever made, and that's excluding even the likes of Corky Romano.

But, much to my relief, the mafia is never to be seen.  Instead we have possibly the only instance of witness protection in cinematic history to actually work.  George and his boilerplate family (underappreciated wife, rebelling daughter, etc.) head to Georgia to stay with lead investigator Brian Simmons' (Perry) mother and father.  Hearkening back to both versions of The Nutty Professor, Perry plays Madea, Brian, and pap Joe.  I was worried for a bit that the film would devolve into stereotypes playing against each other but, as I've said, Perry is too smart a filmmaker for that.  It's not a comedy of manners or anything like that, especially with Madea around, but the way the two families resolved their differences through their respective worldviews I thought was kind of sweet.

The problem is that not much of it is very funny, and the other subplot involving a mortgage and a church drags the film too far down the drama path.  It comes as an odd disruption, especially when I got used to the way the two families would interact, to have these incredibly solemn moments.  But a Tyler Perry film is nothing if not socially conscious, and I still enjoyed his attempts at injecting the movie with a positive brand of religiosity.

I was not prepared for the hilarious way this scene ended, especially give the gentle camaraderie that slowly develops over the conversation.

If there is one thing that worked tremendously well it is the way some of the scenes come right to the edge of cartoonish absurdity then back off.  I desperately wanted them to plunge right off the cliff because of how much I was chuckling.  The scene with Arnold cheerfully explaining the Ponzi scheme to Levy early on is delivered with such enthusiasm and energy that when the camera cut away from Arnold's chair we hear the familiar whoosh, cut back to the spinning chair, and then I was disappointed that I didn't see an outline of Arnold crashing through the wall.  There is one moment that Perry does go right over the edge, right when papa Joe and George think that they're sharing a bonding moment, and arrive at a ridiculous and hilariously deadpan conclusion.

So, the whole thing didn't quite work for me as well as his previous films did, but I like the odd career path he could have taken.  I never would have expected Tyler Perry to work in the madcap vein of animation great Chuck Jones, but I suppose with Madea around I shouldn't have been too surprised.

Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection (2012)
Written and directed by Tyler Perry.
Starring Perry, Eugene Levy, and Denise Richards.

Posted by Andrew

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