(PG-13) 2.5 StarsEd Johnson-Ott
Thirty-five-year-old playwright, director, producer and actor Tyler Perry plays three roles in the clunky drama/comedy Diary of a Mad Black Woman, and the mansion in the film is his real-life suburban Atlanta home, thank you very much. Medea (Tyler Perry) and Helen (Kimberly Elise)
Amazingly, Perry is not the central character in the film. The honor goes to Kimberly Elise, who plays Helen McCarther, wife of Charles (Steve Harris), a powerhouse lawyer. Everything changes when Charles abruptly tosses her out of their estate so he can bring in his girlfriend (Lisa Marcos).
A shattered Helen moves in with grandmother figure Medea (Perry), a 68-year-old pot-smoking, pistol-packing old lady, and Medea's saucy brother Joe (Perry again) and tries to figure out what to do. Save for the occasional visit with her mother (Cicely Tyson), she shuts herself off from others, even the kind, courtly Orlando (Shemar Moore), a regular working-class stiff who only looks like a model. Oh, and she sometimes sees her childhood friend Debrah (Tamara Taylor), barred from her home by husband Brian (Perry again, sans makeup) until she gets treatment for her drug addiction. Then, before the divorce is final, a violent incident leaves Charles in need of 24-hour care. Oh, how will the mad black woman handle the situation?
The proceedings are mildly entertaining on some weird level, but the movie is a train wreck. Tyler Perry freely mixes comedy and melodrama, and the two clank against each other throughout the film.
The overly simplistic nature of the drama is annoying. Charles is an absolute bastard, Orlando is an absolute saint and Helen is an absolute mess.
As for the comedy, imagine a mostly unfunny cross between Big Momma's House and a Bugs Bunny cartoon and you'll know what to expect. Logic gets lost here: In a scene where an angry Medea wreaks someone else's house, she runs upstairs and returns with - get ready for this - a working chainsaw! Come on, even Wile E. Coyote had to send away for his weapons!
Sometimes it's hard to tell whether or not certain scenes are intended as comedy or drama. Late in the film, when one character makes a grand reappearance, I have no idea if the manner in which it is handled is supposed to be grandly triumphant or comically over the top.
Perry's performances as Medea and Joe are uninspired and stereotypical, but he is good as Brian. Kimberly Elise emotes like crazy, but the wall her character puts up kept me out as well. As for the men in her life, how much more interesting this film would have been had the actors been switched, with pretty boy Shemar Moore assigned the bad husband role and the wonderful Steve Harris playing the suitor. Of course, Perry would have needed to rewrite the parts to add nuance to the characters.
And the prospect of Perry writing richer characters isn't likely so long as his formula of slamming slapstick into pathos and sealing every gap with a "Praise Jesus!" continues to pay off. But then, the man is clearly ambitious, so perhaps the prospect of increasing his audience might someday tempt him to take the "melo" out of his drama and to try some organic humor.