Early in Tyler Perry's newest insta-smash, noble Angela Bassett gets laid off from her job and begs her son's neglectful father for help, only to run into a wall of contempt. She makes it out of the encounter with her dignity intact, only to have best friend/comic relief Sofia Vergara—whose over-the-top burlesque of Hispanic sass is downright Carlos Mencia-esque—hurl a brick at the deadbeat dad, Krazy Kat style. It's Tyler Perry's aesthetic in a nutshell: strong, suffering female protagonists, no-good men, clear-cut ethical quandaries, schizophrenic tonal shifts handled as gracefully as bumper-car collisions, and a complete absence of moral ambiguity. Perry continues to see the world in black and white, to critics' chagrin and his fans' delight.
Adapted from one of Perry's plays, Browns casts Bassett as a single mother struggling to raise her children right and keep her teenage son away from drugs and gangs. After learning that the father she never knew has died, Bassett heads down to Georgia for some Southern hospitality, courtesy of her father's brash family and a handsome retired basketball player (handsome retired basketball player Rick Fox) equally interested in her and her son's burgeoning basketball career. Bassett has been hurt by men for so long that it takes her the entire film to realize what audiences will figure out immediately: Fox is one of Perry's thinly conceived angels, not one of his sneering devils.
That aside, after proving that he could still pack theaters without his signature character in his last two films, Perry brings back Madea in the clumsiest, most arbitrary fashion possible, shoehorning her into the last 15 minutes in a completely extraneous bit of business. Bela Lugosi's infamous posthumous appearance in Plan 9 From Outer Space was seamlessly integrated by comparison.
Browns is ultimately a victim of its creator's success: What once felt novel now feels well-worn, following the success of Perry's films and imitators like First Sunday. Perry undoubtedly knows his audience better than his critics do, but as the woeful box-office of Semi-Pro attests, even actors with huge built-in fan bases can only expect audiences to shell out money to see variations on the same half-assed film so many times before they rebel and demand something new.