By removing most of the "Go with God" material, the faith-based filmmaker has created his most consistent mainstream comedy to date.
Boo! A Madea HalloweenDirector: Tyler Perry
Cast: Tyler Perry, Cassi Davis, Patrice Lovely, Liza Koshy, Diamond White, Lexy Panterra
US date: 2016-10-21 (General release)
UK date: 2016-10-21 (General release)
There's a unique conundrum that comes with being a Tyler Perry fan. His plays are a revelatory combination of old school tent revivals and carefully crafted melodrama. His plots are poised precariously along the limited lines of cliche and stereotype, but the inclusion of great gospel lite music and a certain drag voice of common sense propels them forward.
His movies, on the other hand, cater to an often uncertain demographic. Perry has always been a populist, it's just that he serves an audience that, before, was barely considered by Hollywood. Thanks to his success, doors have been open for other faith based productions. But Perry is smarter than the whole "go with God" crowd. He combines chaos, comedy, and Christianity into a potent stew that leaves the included satisfied and the excluded sour.
So what do we make of a movie like Boo! A Madea Halloween. Apparently the direct result of an in-joke made by Chris Rock in his compelling, autobiographical Top Five, this is another yet another example of Perry's preaching to the choir. But this time out, he picks a different songbook, one that shuttles the "Men are Pigs, Women are Suffering Saviors" themes off to the side, leaving more room for the mischief that a man in a dress can get up to.
The plot here is relatively simple. Madea (Perry, perfect as ever) is put in charge of her son Brian Simmons' (Perry again), errant kids, including a teenage daughter named Tiffany (Diamond White) who is desperate to attend a party being thrown by a frat house just around the corner. Along with constant cronies Aunt Bam (Cassie Davis), Hattie Mae (Patrice Love) and Uncle Joe (Perry), they try to keep the eager adolescent in check. Naturally, she breaks out, attends the gala, gets in trouble, and as payback for ruining their good time, the frat dress as zombies and terrorize Madea.
From there, it's a string of strong to silly jokes that add up to a hilarious good time. But there's something missing in Boo! A Madea Halloween that many in her fan base might find off putting. Instead of beating viewers over the head with Bible based solutions and scripture laced screeds, the Church plays a minor role here. Instead, Perry is playing to his strengths, moving even further into the mainstream. In fact, you could legitimately envision Martin Lawrence in a ratty housecoat and wig reprising one of his infamous roles in A Big Mamma Halloween.
All drag pros and cons aside, Perry has found the perfect voice for Madea, the embodiment of old school maternal care. From her "do as I say, not as I do" decision making to the pop culture malapropisms, she's a stitch. Even the worst punchlines come to life in Perry's delivery, and Madea makes a case for the filmmaker to continue on past his already limited cinematic "sell by" date. He may not achieve a level of comic genius of, say, a Jerry Lewis, but there's still plenty of pop left in this broadly drawn battle axe.
Where Perry remains lacking is in his skill behind the lens. He's just not a very good director. He's proficient, and he manages to keep things in frame and in focus, but that doesn't lend itself to visionary work. Anyone who has seen his theater work knows he has an eye for unique set design and actor movement. On film, that all falls flat. We get lifeless looks at lively material, the performers doing their best while the filmmaking lets them down. Even in moments that are meant to be frantic, like the frat's zombie attack on Madea and the gang, nothing pops. It all just lays there.
But then everyone's favorite gun-toting, pot-smoking Granny turns up the juice, and that makes Boo! A Madea Halloween a whole lot of fun. If you've ever suffered through a Perry film and said "I could do without all the preaching and teaching", then you are in for a welcome surprise. This may be as close to your typical Tinseltown laugher that this man ever gets. It's like the recent Seth Rogen romp Neighbors divested of the "R" rating and given a race-specific sheen.
With his growing TV empire and work outside of his own films (Gone Girl, Alex Cross), Perry isn't going away anytime soon. On the other hand, he needs to realize that God can only get you so far at the box office. Boo! A Madea Halloween is a fine step in the direction of ditching all the contrivance and soap operatics for a more grounded, genial experience. As the main character, the Jack-Of-All-Artistic-Trades creates something fun. It's a style and approach he should continue to explore.