Madea is back with the same old thing

Madea Goes to Jail, written and directed by Tyler Perry, is a film that tells the story of Mable “Madea” Simmons, a well-known character created and played by Perry, who is finally punished for her numerous crimes. This doesn’t happen, though, until about halfway through the film. Like many of Perry’s other films, this one originated as a play and it highlights moments where Madea tries to “get before she gets got,” as she would say.

Madea Goes to Jail certainly has a talented cast, but that does little to hide the fact that it is an overly dramatic comedy that forgets to be funny. In fact, this film verifies that the ongoing story of Madea has turned into a soap opera that Perry has unconvincingly repackaged as a film.

Madea is a brassy and sassy, quick-tongued senior citizen, and Perry has done an outstanding job of making her a household name, but there is only so much her character can go through when she repeatedly appears in his films. Over time, she has become too familiar. In this latest installment, Madea is once again in court after being arrested in a car chase from the last Perry film. Of course, she gets off with only a suspended license and anger management classes; the arresting officers did not read her the Miranda rights because she was beating them up.

While Madea continues to cause trouble, the audience is introduced to Josh Hardaway (Derek Luke), an assistant district attorney prosecuting a prostitute, Candace Washington (Keshia Knight Pulliam). Because Josh knows Candace, he hands the case over to his colleague and fiancée Linda (Ion Overman) to prevent the situation from becoming too personal.

Yet, unable to walk away, Josh enlists the help of a minister, Ellen (Viola Davis). Pulliam plays her character satisfactorily — she can cry rather well — showing a respectable effort in one of the few roles she has had since portraying Rudy Huxtable in The Cosby Show. Luke’s and Davis’ performances, however, are outstanding, but their superb acting overshadows the surrounding action at some points in the film.

The transitions in this film are often awkward, as the audience must switch from a dramatic scene with these polished actors to a “humorous” scene with Madea fighting the police or arguing with Dr. Phil. It actually makes it seem as if there are two separate movies going on concurrently. This effect is only strengthened by the small amount of crossover between the two stories.

Problems like this bring up the question of why, after so many films and plays, Perry is not producing better quality works. Perhaps it is because he turns out film after film quickly, with three more expected this year. To his credit, Perry has quickly developed a filmmaking empire, complete with his own state-of-the-art-studio.

That is why Madea Goes to Jail is a disappointment, delivering unpolished directing, recycled jokes, and a script with many holes in it. Of course, this film was not created to become an Oscar contender, but Perry should have set higher standards for his loyal following.