Tyler Perry's newest movie isn't all "Bad"

Sept. 13, 2009, midnight | By Sarah Schwartz | 11 years, 5 months ago

"I Can Do Bad All By Myself" is predictable, but poignantly memorable

Tyler Perry is famous for his religious comedy-dramas, panned by critics but successful at the box-office. With his new movie, "I Can Do Bad All By Myself," Perry stays true to style in an entertaining but ultimately formulaic morality tale.

The movie follows April (Taraji P. Henson), a nightclub singer with a drinking problem and a married boyfriend. When her drug-addict sister dies and her mother disappears, she is forced to take guardianship and responsibility of her niece and two nephews. Naturally, she is not expected to do this alone – April has a token love interest, devoted church friends and of course, the wisdom-filled Madea (Perry) to help her out along her soul-seeking journey.

This plot is dreary and overdone. Everyone in the audience can manage to predict each coming "twist" with ease, even while being clobbered by morality lessons. But that is kind of the point. No one comes to see Tyler Perry's films to teeter on the edge of their seat awaiting plot twists and turns; everyone just wants to see April travel the road to moral and spiritual redemption. All the better if they can already foresee her every step – then it will be easier to unwind and have a few laughs along the way.

With his plot in place, Perry has a blank canvas for a barrage of side-splitting jokes. He mostly hits the mark. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, many achieved in Perry's sermon-like monologues as Madea. The problem is that Perry sometimes rambles to the point where the audience's guffaws turn to chuckles and then to that uneasy tension that ensues when a joke has long since passed its punch-line. Still, Perry does not disappoint, delivering most of the laughs. He is aided by Henson's solid comedic timing and spunky one-liners from Manny (Kwesi Boakye), the youngest nephew.

Moreover, the jokes are certainly preferable to the rest of the dialogue. The script is a compilation of bad clichés and syrupy language. The dialogue was probably crafted to appear poignant, but instead is closer to overly simplistic and sappy. Near the middle of the film, April's niece, Jennifer (Hope Oladie Wilson), has a breakdown at Madea's house. The scene that could have been a touching, turning point in the girl's life seems contrived due to a cookie-cutter monologue about the trials of being a foster teen. The worst of the script, however, is reserved for the budding romance of April and Sandino (Adam Rodriguez), an immigrant handyman supported by April's church. The two quarrel about the meaning of love, finally concluding that April cannot love properly. "Can you teach me?" she simpers at Sandino. Ugh.

Even more than the poor dynamics of the dialogue, "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" has too much of another Perry trademark: gospel and R&B music. The four featured singers, Henson, Mary J. Blige, Gladys Knight and Marvin Winans are all extremely talented, but they are featured on screen too often to reinforce themes at the expense of plot. As the movie progresses and the message of responsibility and faith grow ever stronger, a song crops up for every plot event. Despite their excellent delivery, these songs become lose their uniqueness.

What saves "I Can Do Bad All by Myself" is the sheer likeability of the characters. Most of the actors are not great, but they are good enough that the viewer wants to care about their fate, even if they have to overlook a few forced scenes. Even though Henson plays the classic damsel in distress, she does not come across as too wishy-washy. She even does what she can with the lacking script, changing the mood seamlessly from preachy to melancholy to humorous. She does have the tendency to physically over-act, though, causing her to resemble a fish gasping for air during more intense, dramatic scenes. Other notable performances include Gladys Knight as Wilma, the sweet but wise old church woman with style, and Wilson as Henson's discouraged niece.

And of course, there is Madea. Tyler Perry's most famous character dispenses morals a dime a dozen, giving everyone in the theater that warm fuzzy feeling while still managing to make them laugh out loud. So really, he isn't doing all that "bad" at all.

"Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself", 113 minutes, PG-13 for mature thematic material involving a sexual assault on a minor, violence, drug references and smoking.

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