It’s true: Some 20 years after her stage debut, Tyler Perry’s drag persona “Madea” Simmons—the loud, crazy aunt from hell—is being retired. The big ruffled dress is being hung up, and the gray wig and the granny glasses are being put away. We will have no more of her mangled, malapropistic Bible verses, and no more of her homespun life advice—teaching, always and forever, to trust God and leave that man. We bid goodbye to Madea’s criminal antics; her eternal run-ins with in-laws and the law; her confusingly extended family of bland, adulterous soap-opera characters and grotesque, possibly murderous cartoons. But though the ambitions of Perry the media tycoon have outgrown his signature cross-dressing act, the abilities of Perry the filmmaker have not: A Madea Family Funeral gives its title character an unceremonious send-off, as amateurish and schlocky as any of the mean-but-good-hearted old lady’s previous forays into the big screen.
Is the plot even worth explaining? Convoluted and disjointed even by Perry’s standards, it finds Madea, her skirt-chasing ex-pimp brother Joe (also Perry), straight-arrow nephew Brian (Perry again), and insufferable sidekicks Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) and Miss Hattie (Patrice Lovely) taking a trip to visit well-to-do relation Vianne (Jen Harper) as she celebrates the 40th anniversary of her seemingly perfect marriage—which turns into a funeral when her husband, Anthony, expires in the middle of some afternoon bondage with his much younger mistress. It just so happens that the hotel he’d selected for his fatal tryst was the same one the out-of-towners were staying at, but there’s more: Anthony and Vianne’s eldest son, AJ (Courtney Burrell), was cheating on his wife with his brother’s fiancée in the next suite over. Now, only Madea and her Greek chorus of geriatric gargoyles (plus the long-suffering Brian) know the whole story. How long will they be able to keep all of these juicy secrets?
The answer is something like 100 minutes, including an extended sequence that parodies butt-numbing, overlong memorial services but is itself also a drag. As is usually the case with Perry’s films, A Madea Family Funeral feels like two different movies cut together, alternating between a sins-of-the-father melodrama about multi-generational infidelity that is as stilted as it is apparently sincere, and the kind of caterwauling comedy in which a casket’s lid is repeatedly sprung open by the deceased’s rock-hard boner. Perry even adds a new character to his repertoire: Madea and Joe’s hitherto unmentioned brother Heathrow, a double-amputee who talks through an electrolarynx. This means that there are scenes in Family Funeral that find the writer-director playing three different cranky, horny old people—and his own head-shaking straight man in the form of Brian.
There’s a climactic monologue from Vianne that glimmers with greater dramatic potential, a Mike Tyson cameo, a long traffic-stop sequence in which Perry’s elderly alter-egos sound off about the threat of police violence, a bunch of jokes about old people needing to pee—one can’t accuse Perry of putting too little of anything into his films. Apart from effort and craft, of course. The Madea films have long been a thankless beat for critics; year in, year out, we schlep ourselves to the multiplex on a Thursday night or a Friday morning to see these movies (they are never screened in advance for the press) and then type our reviews. These reviews usually draw the same conclusions: The films are inane, sloppy, tone-deaf, moralizing, and have no sense of quality control, but there’s nothing quite like them. Madea, we hardly knew ye…