Acting, writing show signs of fatigue in ‘Madea Christmas’

By Gary Clift

Tyler Perry makes a slew of movies and TV series every year. In 2013 he directed three of each. Then he acts, he produces, he writes, and he does stage plays as well as filmed things. Naturally he has patterns he follows—it would take an imagination the size of Dickens’s to generate all-new stuff for that many projects.

The Atlanta-based drag-specialist has a new film out, “A Madea Christmas,” and it is not particularly successful, even by Perry’s standards for routine work. He wrote, directed, and acted in the film, and it is the acting and writing that show signs of fatigue.

For years now, Perry has been getting laughs by dressing up in women’s clothing and pretending to be a forceful, self-protective, sometimes violent kind of Dutch aunt to other African-Americans from the urban South. When frustrated, the character will throw boiling grits onto an adversary or drive a car into the lobby of a fast-food restaurant.

It is an unfunny joke, then, when the Madea in the new film is hyper-sensitive to the current national horror—bullying. Madea is a bully. How can Madea be outraged by bullying?: And besides, haven’t we had enough of this artificially-stirred furor about something that, like the poor, is ever with us?

Take away the threat behind Madea and you may take away any chance the character has of surprising us into laughing. In this film Madea is forced into the action, having no personal interest in any of the proceedings. And then what does the character do when given the floor? Maunder. Madea’s comedy routines seem to be improvised. And they aren’t funny. But they go on and on.

Interestingly, the previews show Madea doing a turn as a department store Santa. These sequences aren’t in the movie, in which she appears, briefly, as a rude department store greeter.

The movie’s plot is as bad as is the lead character’s patter. There is a budget crisis in a small Alabama town. An evil construction company has built a dam up-stream and is stopping water from getting through to small, local farmers. They need to sell poinsettias to the town’s Christmas festival to survive. Honest.

But the mayor is canceling the festival because the town is broke. One teacher (Tika Sumpter) calls an old beau and asks if his Atlanta-based employer can help. The beau works out a deal and drives to Alabama to deliver a contract. With him ride the teacher’s lying, racist mother and her friend Madea.

When they arrive, uninvited, Ma turns empress and begins ordering around a young White man she believes is farm help. He is actually, if secretly, married to the teacher.

His parents (Larry the Cable Guy and Kathy Najimy) arrive in time for Ma to cut down an evergreen on the property. It had a yellow ribbon on it. The cast now tell us that in all known countries, yellow ribbons are recognized signs of memorial trees. Perhaps memorials to Tony Orlando. In this case the tree was a memorial to a dead relation.

Meanwhile the mayor discovers that the contract he’s signed requires the town to stage the festival without reference to religion. I thought it was government that tried to keep religion out of things—didn’t know government was only doing the bidding of evil, bullying, dam-controlling construction companies.

Angry about the restriction, a poor farmer (father of the teacher’s best pupil, a victim of school bullying) orders the Mayor to fire the teacher. Are you following this? Meanwhile, back at the farm, Ma’s lies about her husband and her own health are revealed by Madea. Ma is so ashamed she walks away and finds a truck flipped on the road. The poor farmer is stuck inside. She pulls him out.

Then her daughter’s husband, who has heard about the professional dismissal, arrives and punches the injured poor farmer. Genetic engineering figures in the winding down of the silly story, too, but not logically. And nothing is over, of course, until the little pupil sings.

This recapitulation of the story actually makes more sense of events than has the screenplay. If you like film story confusion, perhaps generated by movie-maker over-work, see “A Madea Christmas.” Otherwise stay home and out of the way of corporate bullies.

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