What gives, Madea?

I know she's not a real person, and maybe I should be addressing her alter ego, Tyler Perry. But I don't have a stake in Tyler Perry; he's not all that interesting to me without her. She's the one I come to see in movie after movie, she's the one whose presence ensures the entertainment value of any film with her name in the title and even a few that don't. She's the id, the enforcer, the person who drives cars into fast food restaurants as punishment for disrespectful customer service.

Perry says Madea is the exaggerated version of women in his family, but for people who don't know Perry's family she feels more like the chemical reaction of a lab experiment combining doses of Redd Foxx and LaWanda Page on Sanford and Son along with several strong shots of Popeye and Tasmanian Devil. And that is a good thing. So why, then, is this Madea outing so weirdly flat and muted?

After Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family, the most rambunctious and consistently funny Madea movie to date, there was good reason to have high hopes that this one would be equally strong. And with Eugene Levy along to goad her into even bigger fits of frustration, this was supposed to be a sure thing. Levy plays a bumbling accountant set up by his employers to take the fall for their involvement in mob-backed money laundering. Turning state's evidence for the prosecution means that he and his wife (Denise Richards) and his snotty kids (Danielle Campbell, Devan Leos) are sent into witness protection at Madea's house. Sure, why not? Madea is going to bust those people, right? Right?

Wrong.

Madea sputters and fumes and threatens but never once achieves prior levels of ballistic domestic vengeance. No cars are crashed, no weapons deployed, no physical comedy-violence, nothing. If ongoing franchises are supposed to guarantee anything it's a heightening of the main event in each subsequent film. Perry's already had the opportunity to take his star commodity from Madea to Madea-er. By this point she should be at her Madea-est instead of softening and retreating into safe lovability. Subdued Madea is not Madea.

The whole movie feels like it was shot in a week, a carelessly cranked out rush job of last-minute script sketchiness and failed improv, as though Perry had someplace else he needed to be (on the set of Alex Cross, maybe?) and a set-in-stone wrap date, no time to flesh out the flimsy story to give his matriarch the showcase she needed to bounce off the walls recklessly. And if this is how it's going to be from now on, if the director has bigger fish to fry, then just retire this character now instead of gutting the crazed life out of her. I don't want to live in a world where the sad next installment is called Tyler Perry's Conciliatory Post-Madea. I just don't.

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