Directed by: Tyler Perry
Premise: An assistant district attorney (Derek Luke) finds that a childhood friend (Keshia Knight Pulliam) has been arrested on prostitution charges. As he attempts to help her improve her life, his relationship with his fiancé is strained. At the same time, the ever-feisty Madea (Tyler Perry) goes to prison and learns some lessons about anger management.
What Works: There is some very good acting talent on display in Madea Goes to Jail. Among the performers, Keshia Knight Pulliam stands out as Candace, a woman who has allowed a traumatic past to derail her life. Pulliam gets a lot of the best material in the film and manages to use just the right amount of emotion without coming across overly sentimental. Derek Luke is also interesting to watch as Josh, an assistant district attorney who has retained a sense of obligation to his childhood friends and those living in the unfortunate circumstances that he came from. Through him the film probes some interesting questions about African American identity and class conflict within the ethnic group. Tyler Perry provides a lot of the laughs as Madea and in this film he hits the comedic target more precisely and consistently than in other films he has worked on.
What Doesn’t: Although the quality of the actors in the film is very good, the cast runs into trouble when the screenplay starts heaping on the sentimentality. demanding that they dive into sobbing and hysterics without building up to it. The same is true of Candace and Joshua’s redemption and rehabilitation, which are oversimplified. This film has a lot of difficulty balancing its two parts: the storyline of Joshua and Candace plays like a straight drama and a full fledged motion picture but the Madea storyline and its characters plays more like a television sitcom and the tone and style of the two narratives never coalesce together very well.
Bottom Line: Madea Goes to Jail is mostly successful at what it is trying to do. The picture may be better suited to play on home video than in a theater but fans of Tyler Perry’s other work are likely to be happy with this film.
Episode: #230 (March 8, 2009)