Last fall it looked as though Tyler Perry finally made some progress as a filmmaker, retaining his screeching smirk of melodrama, but finding human elements to work with in “Why Did I Get Married?” I just knew it wouldn’t last forever, and “Meet the Browns” drags Perry back to the quicksand of laborious storytelling and grandstanding nonsense that’s made him a millionaire, keeping close to his pandering roots out of fear of truly spreading his artistic wings.
A single mother of three living in Chicago housing projects, Brenda (Angela Basset) has found herself without a job and her life quickly falling apart. One day a letter arrives informing Brenda that her father has passed, along with bus tickets to Georgia to attend the funeral. Hesitant, she and the kids make the trip, only to find the loutish, backwoods Brown family (including Jennifer Lewis and David Mann) waiting for her. Overwhelmed by the country life and the prying eyes of her extended family, Brenda finds comfort in Harry (Rick Fox), a former pro basketball player looking to help her eldest find a future in hoops, while also laying down some serious woo.
“Married” didn’t thrill me, but it demonstrated Perry’s willingness to lay off the deafening horn of histrionics and play the story more smoothly, taking a much needed breather from his usual frenzied extremes. “Meet The Browns” refuses to build on this important foundation, with Perry sprinting back to his comfort zone of theatrical adaptation and rafter-quaking performances. It’s disheartening to witness.
If you’ve partaken in the other Perry creations, you’ve pretty much already seen “Meet the Browns.” Perry’s not rocking the boat with this feature film, working through a familiar pastiche of broad comedy, squealing performances, and blunt messages on the importance of...well, I’m not exactly sure in this movie. The film appears centered on the theme of trust, but the screenplay overcooks the idea by having Brenda practically convulse anytime she finds herself being offered assistance. There are tangents about the pitfalls of drug dealing, absentee fatherhood, and gambling as well, but Perry isn’t able to connect the dots as easily this time around, finding his screenplay too tangled to make sense out of it. Subplots are either left to wither away or they’re just bluntly gutted out of the movie, with several sloppy gaps in the story.
Actual narrative doesn’t really matter to Perry, since these movies are simply vehicles for actors to scream at the camera. Jennifer Lewis wins the gold star for this production, turning up the treble on her chainsaw voice to cover for a role that quite literally makes no sense. Bassett isn’t nearly as piercing, but her insistence that every emotion be conveyed with 100 different facial contortions is exhausting to behold, through she has nice chemistry with Fox, who plays the Perry-mandatory dream hunk role with minimal fuss.
From what I’ve read, the film version of “Meet the Browns” has been altered considerably from its stage incarnation, and perhaps that’s why this movie feels so relentlessly distracted and overweight. The structure is off here; Perry can’t settle on an ending, so he includes two of the fairy tale kind, and he volleys between embarrassing punctuations of melodrama and southern-fried slapstick far too wildly, making already ridiculous situations unbearable and downright despicable at times.
As proven through reasonable (not remarkable) box office returns and the venomous mail I receive with each new Perry pan, there’s a crowd, an army perhaps, that will soak up anything they’re served. Perry might be out to create a community spirit in theaters across the country, but, again, that doesn’t excuse his thick-fingered mangling of dramatic expression and his questionable taste in racial caricatures. “Meet the Browns” is a stinker, but at this point, it’s like yelling at a brick wall.