Starring Tyler Perry, Eugene Levy. Written and directed by Tyler Perry. PG. 115 min. Opens June 29.
Tyler Perry is tireless. Madea’s Witness Protection is the writer/director/producer/actor/friend-of-Oprah’s twelfth feature film since 2002. In terms of its technical quality, it’s no better or worse than most of its predecessors: It seems to have been shot in a rush and edited by the yard. But it’s also a departure in that, for the first time, Perry’s most famous creation—the hulking, short-fused Southwestern matriarch Madea—is fronting a mostly white comic ensemble.
The specialness of this occasion is built into the script, which is about a hapless Wall Street middle-manager (Eugene Levy) who becomes the fall guy for a Ponzi scheme and is relocated by a government prosecutor (Perry sans drag) to Madea’s Atlanta home. Unsurprisingly, Levy and his brood are initially resistant to their hostess’ odd behavior, but end up growing closer to each other via sustained exposure to her wacky wisdom. What’s much more surprising is how Denise Richards, in the seemingly thankless role of Levy’s wife, validates her stunt casting with a strangely sympathetic performance, and proves that Perry’s undeniable knack for directing actresses remains intact.
Madea’s Witness Protection starts dragging terribly when it circles back to New York for a plot detour involving a secret bank account. These scenes feel like tacked-on excuses for the director to score some wobbly satirical points about airline security and luxury hotels using Madea as his bellowing mouthpiece. There’s always been a hectoring aspect to Perry’s comedy, a feeling that he’s trying to impart greater truths through his crowd-pleasing style. But it’s hard to take the film’s valourization of hard work and self-respect seriously when its own laziness is so palpable.