Tyler Perry can do bad all by himself. Those infected by blind hatred have to band together. The IMDb is a wonderful site for all things cinema (and television!), but lets be honest: who really takes the user ratings seriously?
This sometimes-humble reviewer does not, solely due to the people with agendas. Perry's 'I Can Do Bad All by Myself' is just the most recent film featuring a largely black presence (writing, directing, acting) to find itself on the auspicious "Bottom 100," a chart of the lowest ranked films ever. Before viewing the film, I had to ask myself, is the latest stage-to-screen adaptation (of which, Perry has done a few) truly in the same elite company as 'Kazaam,' 'Cool as Ice,' 'Battlefield Earth,' 'Santa with Muscles,' 'Manos: The Hands of Fate,' and 'From Justin to Kelly,' or was this just another case of a race-inspired smear campaign?
After watching the film, I'm convinced it was a smear campaign.
April (Taraji P. Henson) is a singer at Club Indigo, with her share of problems. She's a bitter, self-centered, and self-absorbed drunken mess, sleeping with a married man (Brian J. White as Randy). Meanwhile, when April's niece and nephews (Hope Olaide Wilson, Kwesi Boakye, and Frederick Siglar) break into a house, they have no idea what they got themselves into, choosing the wrong house. Madea's house. The bitter old 450 pound woman (Tyler Perry's famous alter-ego) drops the children at April's doorstep, as their grandmother cannot be found, and she's the only other family they have.
At the Zion Liberty Baptist Church a few buildings down, Sandino (Adam Rodriguez) has come looking for work, remembering the missionary work the members had provided in his home country, and ends up living in April's basement in exchange for fixing up the squalor she is complacent to. As Madea tries to instill a sense of right and wrong into the three children as they work off the damages they created in her home, April will have to face her miserable life, come to grips with the decisions that put her where she is, and come to realize the family that she keeps at arms length is all she really has.
I'll admit, 'I Can Do Bad All by Myself' is my first foray into Perry's works. I've read plenty about him (and have to wonder how much the abuse he suffered at his father's hand has played into his creations), but never felt inspired to sit down and watch one of his plays or films. I wondered how all his films could pull in so much box office without major stars or budgets, consistently approaching the nine-digit plateau. Now, I'm left wondering what I've been missing all these years. While obviously not the best film ever made, his most recent work showed great personality, and, more importantly, conveyed an amazingly positive message, both moral and religious.
April's character arc, the focal point of the film, may linger and run stagnant, then only change due to being written as such, but Henson is convincing as a delusional diva, easy to hate for her actions, yet easy to sympathize with, for some reason even I can't grasp. Madea plays a very minor role in the film, and appears more for brand name recognition than anything else, more as an extended cameo, with a few sequences that really don't fit too well with the rest of the story, even if they set everything in motion.
The story of redemption, of righting one's wrongs, and accepting responsibility, even if it isn't your own, is solid, while the Christian message is hardly preachy, even in church sequences. Simply put, this is good, healthy family fare, free from rampant obscenity, with light bits of humor to lighten up some very dark moments. I wasn't too big a fan of Madea in my first exposure to her, as her fast talking got on my nerves, but late in the film, "she" had me in stitches, with a hilariously awful explanation of biblical events, as well as a moment when she lets out the kind of noise you'd expect from your dog when it twists its head in confusion. Five replays later of that moment, I was laughing harder than the first time, silly as it may sound.
For all the good in 'I Can Do Bad All by Myself,' there are some serious issues at hand that prevent this from being truly amazing. The plot feels like it is being pushed along, forced, rather than being allowed to progress naturally -- out of the blue character development is just one example of this. The dialogue can seem forced as well, with some random bits of wisdom in the middle of arguing, like a line from Socrates in the middle of a rhyme about drug use. When April or the other workers of Club Indigo (including Gladys Knight and Mary J. Blige), or the pastor of the church (Marvin Winans) sing, it seems the entire film stops for excessively prolonged periods. Sure, the words in the music are crucial, and fit the story wonderfully, but there's this thing called excerpts, where you don't have to hear the entire song, that works quite well for these occasions. Some performances were less than riveting, to the point of being downright distracting, but we're not talking about an all-star cast, here, either.
There will be many who judge this book by its cover, due to the mention of the amazingly successful Perry (who may as well be renamed King Midas, as everything he touches turns to gold), but those who pass this title up solely for such a reason are the ones missing out. 'I Can Do Bad by Myself' is an interesting, if flawed story, with a wonderful message, a rarity these days. As wholesome as it is deep, Perry's adaptation of his own work is a success, even if it may be considered a lesser work by some of his more devoted fans.
Not exactly your stereotypical high-def treatment material, 'I Can Do Bad by Myself' arrives on Blu-ray via an AVC MPEG-4 encode (1080p, 1.78:1) that is less than perfect, but sparkles when it wants to.
Skin tones are natural for the most part, though makeup effects (especially on Madea) make facial features look incredibly soft, while lighting, particularly at the Indigo, make everyone appear overly yellow. The lines brought from tears can look yellow, as well, regardless of what set they are in, with a light fluorescent glow. Some bright colors, particularly in clothing used in performances, share this same glowing/glaring issue.
Fine object detail is solid, with beautiful definition in the sets, particularly the wear and tear of April's abode. I found the intricate lines and curvatures in the microphone to be amazing, an obvious aliasing hotspot that stayed true to its source and stayed solid and clean. Edges are natural, but delineation is average at best, and black levels have a tendency to crush. There were a few random shots with heftier grain levels than the rest of the film, while a few others are a tad soft comparatively. Colors are all over the place, in terms of consistency, but the ending of the film certainly boasts and obvious brightness boost, a sign of happier times ahead.
While the Lionsgate staple 7.1 mix isn't in the cards for 'I Can Do Bad All by Myself,' the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix provided does a more than adequate enough job with what it is given. Dialogue is clean, with even the fastest Madea ramblings coming through sharp and discernible. Singing packs a serious wallop, too, free from any distortion. There was an occasional pop in some lines, but it was minimal, and spread far apart. The soundtrack hits the rears softly, along with just the tiniest bit of ambience, giving the film a bit of (very) light depth. Localization and directionality are solid and accurate. The bass surprised me here, going into the film blind, as it would be near dead for the talky moments, but come to life at the club, or any moment a cast member sings. I could feel the bass guitar notes pulse through my feet, as though I were there, a nice sensation, while the final song packs a powerful deep thud. Hardly overwhelming, but certainly not underwhelming, this track may just be whelming enough.
The packaging indicates a lossless Spanish dub, but the menu for the film and the status bar on my player both indicate the track is a lossy Dolby Digital mix.
The supplement package for 'I Can Do Bad All by Myself' is fairly weak, a tiny set of pickings filling out the rest of the BD25 disc.
I'll honestly admit that I was prepared to face some serious backlash if I found Tyler Perry's latest work to be contrite and ridiculous. What I wasn't ready for was how convinced I was, in my first Perry outing, of how talented a writer the man is. He may enjoy dressing up like a heavyset old woman, but it has worked out quite well for him, and his legion of fans will attest to as much. The Blu-ray for 'I Can Do Bad by Myself' was as solid as the film, making it easy to suggest fans and newcomers give this release a look.