Two and a half stars (PG-13)
Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins is a Tyler Perry movie without Tyler Perry. The New Orleans writer, actor and director caused a sensation when his little movie Diary of a Mad Black Woman hit big in 2002. Since then, he has released several more successful films as well as the TV series House of Payne. His winning formula is to mix broadly-drawn characters, saucy comedy and some slapstick with a hefty dose of melodrama. Perry likes to touch audiences with his moral lessons, though he’s a little fuzzy in the consistency department, often wallowing in the behaviors his conservative-values-heavy screenplays condemn. His work is sloppy, but effective. A lot of people find it easy to relate to his stuff.
Roscoe Jenkins lifts the Perry formula completely and will likely prove popular with the same audience that made Perry a powerhouse. The story of a rowdy family gathering is lazy, but affable. No one in the big cast of familiar faces is called on to do anything special, but that doesn’t matter because this kind of McMovie isn’t meant to blaze trails. Its goal is to give a receptive audience exactly what they expect, nothing more or less.
I was mildly annoyed by the stereotypes and the film’s general lack of ambition. My son laughed louder and more often than I’ve heard him do in quite a while. As the closing credits ran, I found myself thinking, “Well, it wasn’t good, but it sure wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected it would be.” Not exactly a hearty endorsement, I realize, but there you go.
Written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee, Spike’s cousin, the story follows R.J. Stevens (Martin Lawrence, more contained than usual), the star of a hit Dr. Phil-style talk show, as he gets guilt-tripped into returning to his hometown in the Deep South for the 50th wedding anniversary celebration of his parents (James Earl Jones and Margaret Avery) with his son Jamaal (Damani Roberts) and highly ambitious girlfriend, Survivor winner Bianca Kittles (Joy Bryant), in tow. He also brings a camera crew, planning to turn the trip into a very special episode of his show.
The visit does not go smoothly, of course. Despite his money and fame, R.J. — make that Roscoe Jenkins at home — is a disappointment to his father, who feels his son turned his back on his legacy. Reunions with his big brother Otis (Michael Clarke Duncan), now the county sheriff, his opportunistic cousin Reggie (Indianapolis’ own Mike Epps) and overbearing sister Betty (Mo’Nique, filling the genre requirement for at least one sassy big girl) stir up memories, some good, some bad. And then there’s cousin Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer), Roscoe’s rival since childhood, who shows up with Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker), who Roscoe pined for as a boy.
Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins follows the Tyler Perry template all the way, mixing jokes and slapstick with romance and pathos. The cast isn’t challenged by their standard-issue characters, though the immensely-likable Michael Clarke Duncan manages to wring a lot of goodwill out of his screen time. James Earl Jones, on the other hand, is totally wasted and Cedric the Entertainer is less entertaining than usual. Not much else left to say. The McMovie goes down easy. Empty calories usually do.