Tyler Perry sure does give a lot to his fans, and his fans keep returning the favor, making seemingly every production under Perry's wing a massive financial success, with solid returns on minimal budgets. It's one of those relationships where even if there's a misfire, it doesn't deter the faithful from returning to see the next message told by Madea him/herself. From stage plays to movies (often adapted from their original play form), to a few television series, there might not be a single busier entertainer working today.
I'm honestly amazed there hasn't been a Tyler Perry overload due to the sheer exposure levels that seem to doom numerous celebrities who hit the stage hard and fast. What I'm not amazed at, though, is the fact that some of his works are definitely not on par with the others. You can't overextend yourself in the way Perry has these last eight years without sacrificing something along the way, and that means that occasionally, he'll shoot and miss, even if his attempt is still a financial success.
'The Family That Preys' is exactly that. Filmed between the movie adaptations of 'Meet the Browns' and 'Madea Goes to Jail,' this film may be recognizable as having the most multi-cultural cast in any Perry production. It may also be recognizable as being a bit too bloated and overlong for its own good.
The story centers around two matriarchs who seemingly have nothing in common, aside from their lifelong friendship, and the fact that they run their respective businesses. Alice Pratt (Alfre Woodard) runs a none too busy diner, while Charlotte Cartwright (Kathy Bates) helms a giant construction company that's making money hand over fist. Their children are interlinked, for more reasons than one. Charlotte's son, William (Cole Hauser), has aspirations of taking over the family business and shaping it in his image, and his wife Jillian (KaDee Strickland) seems to be a trophy, and representation of his state, more than a recipient of his love. Alice's daughters are equally troubled, as Pam (Taraji P. Henson), who works for her in the diner, doesn't seem to have any aspirations, and questions her mother's good will, while Andrea (Sanaa Lathan) is a businesswoman on the rise, who is full of disrespect and tainted vision. Each of their husbands (Tyler Perry and Rockmond Dunbar), construction workers beneath William, want nothing more than a comfortable life for their branches of the family.
This all seems well and good, but since Andrea and William are having a sordid affair, it will soon affect everyone close to them, as each family strains under their respective burdens. Everyone has their dreams, but sometimes its the people they love that they feel are in the way of them. Alice and Charlotte do their own miniature bucket list adventure, and, whaddaya know, everyone's lives will be changed.
'The Family That Preys' isn't a bad film. It's just...kind of a waste. Woodard and Bates are both far from their award winning performances, giving us some unusual scenes, to be sure. Perry, sporting a pretty messed up mini-fro, tries to steal every scene he's in, despite being the least important speaking character in each and every one of them, as Ben has no real story, besides being second banana and best friends with Chris. Strickland is painful in each and every scene she's in. Just painful. Of course, there are redeeming performances that try to counter the true stinkers. Lathan, Hauser, and Henson are all great, with Henson shining above everyone else in her minor role, easily the most believable actor in the film.
This cast, which is honestly not that bad, isn't properly utilized in a film like this. Yes, it's wonderful to see a film that starts with a wedding not actually showing the wedding, just introducing the relationship between the families. But, if one thinks hard enough about it, that by itself sets the stage early, as you never see Chris and Andrea express their love for each other. Instead, we get the constant, none too subtle hints that Andrea and William are creeping. We're also given a few characters too many. Really, there is no need for either Pam or Ben. Pam's entire purpose of babysitting Andrea's son could be done by Alice, putting more on Andrea when she goes on her roadtrip, while Ben is almost like a figment of someone's imagination, as only two people ever really talk to him. He's just there so Chris can have someone masculine to talk to.
This film does have a positive message, as most Perry films do, though it takes way too long to get to it, and by the time it happens, the film has to montage to get it across since it's already run for far too long. A shame, really. The whole redemption/comeuppance thing really could have been the final half of the third act, but instead, it's simply tacked on so we know the meaning of the story. It just doesn't fit. Sure, I did enjoy the anti-materialism angles the film took, that money isn't as important as happiness (and that may be the the real reason Pam exists, to be that opposite to foil Andrea), and I did very much appreciate the way the film didn't pander to people of any social status, rich or poor. The manner in which a homeless man is handled in this film is pretty predictable (and borderline repeated in 'I Can Do Bad All By Myself,' by the way), but that has to be one of the easier messages to convey in this overly populated film.
Sure, Perry has made some good films, and he's also made some pretty poor ones. 'The Family That Preys' is somewhere in between, struggling to maintain any mood, giving us a few too many painfully unfunny and unbelievable scenes, and the occasional daytime soap feeling (complete with soppy score) that lessens the work. The way religion is thrown in for good measure seems like a cop out, while the issue of spousal abuse is handled very, very poorly here. A fun watch for some of the female actresses, but a difficult one due to the fact that it should have been four characters lighter and twenty minutes (at least) shorter.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Family That Preys' arrives on Blu-ray on a BD25 Single Layer Disc, with an A/B/C Region free coding. There is a multitude of pre-menu content (nine minutes worth of Tyler Perry), featuring trailers for 'For Colored Girls,' a generic ad for all of Perry's films on Blu-ray, 'Precious,' 'Madea's Big Happy Family: the Play,' and 'Why Did I Get Married, Too?' Sadly, these trailers are not skippable through the top menu button, so keep your finger over that next chapter button. The menu has looped audio and video, but it's hardly annoying.
The 1.78:1 framed 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode provided 'The Family That Preys' is quite sound. This may be a catalog title, but it was made in 2008, and it most certainly looks far better than other films in the same budget bracket.
The opening shot, panning across a large estate, concerned me, particularly with the slightly pulsing shakiness of it all that made me think I was in for something quite the opposite of smooth, but things calmed down in quite a hurry. Flesh tones are consistent and fairly accurate, grain levels didn't impede detail, though the film does lack a certain pop to it. Whites are super clean, while black levels maintain their balance with the rest of the film, with good shadow detail never sucking in detail. Textures may be the strongpoint, as I was quite impressed with the feel of the film, how very lifelike it looks. Colors are pretty bold, especially reds, though some bumped contrast levels may play a hand in that, and they most certainly play a hand in the exaggerated, bled edges that are hard to miss. Additionally, it's rare to see a film look so good, yet at the same time, have consistent problems with portraying something so simple as hair, as it rarely shows up like it were the construct of countless follicles, rather just a colored blob. I still think this is a strong looking disc, but it has its share of minor problems.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix afforded 'The Family That Preys' is better than I was anticipating, especially since I was expecting something so front heavy it might tip over my television. Dialogue is always cleanly prioritized, and not once is a line of dialogue difficult to comprehend. Localization effects are too few and far between for my liking, and they were somewhat awkward, including a slamming door out of the blue that made me jump, solely due to how random and loud it was. I'm not saying that like it were a good thing. Ambience is random, sometimes forgotten, and rear speakers are mostly called upon for the soundtrack and score. Bass levels are the same way, though the floor does get rocking in the male stripper scene...lordy lordy, did I just say that? Anyways, no element beyond spoken word comes close to dominating this somewhat uneventful, but somewhat realistic track.
There are a number of reasons that Tyler Perry has such a legion of devoted fans. 'The Family That Preys' is not one of those reasons. It does try to convey a positive message, but it gets stuck portraying the negativity of the story for so long that there's no time for any kind of real goodness that makes sense. Instead, the message is just slapped on and called a day. Lionsgate's Blu-ray release of the 2008 film has very strong video, average audio, and some fairly standard extras that didn't quite excite me. This release is for fans only, because there are far better Perry films to inundate newcomers with, and this one may not give them reason to seek out more.