When Tyler Perry is on, he can make a good film. He can get good performances out of his actors and actresses. He can convincingly tell a story. When he's off, though, look out. It took a while, but eventually I found a film from this massively successful entertainment industry staple that I couldn't forgive for its shortcomings due to its effort or other elements. 'Madea Goes to Jail' isn't a good film. It's close to the definition of a bad film, full of overacting, cliche characters, predictability, ridiculous turns of events requiring massive suspension of belief, and one of the worst uses of the Madea character to date.
Of course, it still made over ninety million dollars at the box office, opening number one in a week when the only other new release was 'Fired Up,' making more money than the next four films on the list combined. Heck, it was even number one the next week, the lesser of three evils when it beat out the Jonas Brothers concert and the second 'Street Fighter' film. All that, and it is still, to date, the highest grossing Tyler Perry film.
If you've seen any film from Madea him/herself, then you already know the story. That or you already saw the play. You have your seemingly upstanding good citizens, Joshua and Linda (Derek Luke and Ion Overman), an engaged couple who both work for the DA's office, and then the bad apple Candace (Keshia Knight Pulliam), a prostitute on trial, whose past is linked to Joshua. Linda resents Josh every time he tries to help her, and makes it her goal to get this woman of the streets out of his life for good when she feels that Josh does things for the hooker that he's never done for her. Meanwhile, Madea him/herself (Perry) has a few run ins with the law, and finds him/herself in jail when he/she can't talk his/her way past Judge Mathis.
Yep, Judge Mathis. But don't worry, Doctor Phil did try to help her in anger management, and even the gals on The View speak up in defense of Madea.
Sure, the cameos are horrible and cheap, but that isn't the reason this film fails. It tries to do too damn much in too short a window. Every one of Perry's films is fairly long (clocking in around 100 minutes), so there's plenty of time to include a wide cast of characters, but the thing is, Perry isn't the type to let the audience draw their own conclusions. He paints the good guys as perfect, and the bad ones as petty or jealous, and it takes more than one instance to give the audience the full picture he's working with, so we get numerous redundant or unnecessary scenes in an attempt to make the Earth shattering finale register with the audience, vindicating characters and giving everyone the ending they deserve. That may sound like broad strokes, but with Perry working himself to death creating an entertainment empire, eventually some of his work is going to suffer, and that's what happens in this formulaic mess.
Acting normally isn't a problem in Perry's flicks, but it's a big to-do here. In the main plot of the film, there wasn't a single character who I felt was given a good performance. Not one. This isn't a film where everything is phoned in; instead, it's over the top, in a way. Luke, in particular, hams it like you wouldn't believe until you saw it with your own two eyes. Of course, in the Madea plot of the film, there's going to be ridiculous characters, so ridiculous acting is to be expected, but when even the Browns are the lesser of two evils in terms of quality acting, you know something is seriously wrong.
There's still a laundry list of issues I want to hit on, so I'll keep them all brief. Perry does too much, with his three roles, and any time he's in a scene opposite himself, the film turns weird, with either too many random cuts for coverage, or a digitally inserted Tyler Perry that doesn't seem to interact with the scene whatsoever, just hovering there. The plot is ridiculously unbelievable, in both the prostitution story and the Madea tale. Dialogue can at times be creepy when it's supposed to be innocent, or hilarious when it's supposed to be creepy. Of course, there has to be a scene where a man beats down (and rapes, let's not forget the rape) a woman. A pay phone call to an operator connects a hysterical nearly naked hooker to someone's cell phone (that's not how it works!). Lastly, how many times in Tyler Perry films do we have that one scene, where someone's pride is bigger than their brains, and someone who loves them has to beat the sense into them, leading to an extremely emotional argument? How many times do we have to watch the same film?
I liked the fact that this film pushed the idea that no matter how troubled one's upbringing is, one has to rise above it to become a better person, but sadly, melodrama ruins even that element of this flick. It's hard to say good words about a film that tries to be a serious emotional drama, when it is intercut with a completely unrelated character whose story arc is the complete opposite of the main plot, taking valuable time away from the film unnecessarily, creating an uneven tone. Simply put, 'Madea Goes to Jail' is a train wreck, from the minute we see a business card for a young Madea as an escort/stripper in the opening credits. It all goes downhill from there, folks, and it never recovers. Tyler Perry normally makes interesting, well acted, inspirational films, but this is just a stinker, through and through.
The 1.85:1 AVC MPEG-4 encode (in 1080p) given to 'Madea Goes to Jail' is far from stellar, despite the fact that this is a relatively new film.
It's very clean (only a few tiny dirt speckles), but the combination of edge ringing, frequent crush, slight artifacting, on again off again texture quality, slight banding, and perplexing skin tones undoes a lot of the positives. It's nice that we can see how plastic Uncle Joe's face looks due to makeup/prosthetic use, and the few scenes with a sweaty character show off some great accents, and sharpness is never an issue, particularly in facial features, but this disc seems affected by the lack of breathing room given to the film on a slightly crammed BD25 disc.
Given a bigger disc and plenty of space to breathe, this release would have easily looked much better, and have earned a better score here.
'Madea Goes to Jail' isn't a sonic show stopper, either, as this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is simply average.
Dialogue clarity has no problems, but there are constantly questionable dynamics that are beyond distracting, like the lack of echo in huge hollow spaces, or the K-Mart parking lot scene where Madea drives around in a circle, back and forth, and yet her volume level is the same no matter how far away she is, located in the same spot, and is always far too crisp for someone in a car moving along. There's some random light rear activity, and one good rainy sequence that registers from all angles, but other than that, this film is fairly front heavy, with only a few localized effects to spruce things up (and since they're used so sparingly, they're somewhat random and odd). There's a tiny bit of bass in the soundtrack, and some nice high pitched squeals in car brakes, but really, this is just a basic no frills track, and it gets the job done, weird as it may be.
This isn't so much an extra, but this disc does have nine minutes worth of pre-menu content that cannot be skipped through top menu button. Hooray!
'Madea Goes to Jail' is an odd Tyler Perry film. Its heart is kinda in the right place, sometimes, but it doesn't quite know how to balance its elements properly, creating a two-tone, disjointed flick that can test even the most patient viewer's resolve. With a fairly average disc that's crammed to the point that the video suffers for it, it's hardly the best Perry release on Blu-ray, but fans will still look past that. Throw in the bargain basement price at Wal-Mart stores (which is normally a buck or two lower than Amazon on this title), and this one becomes an instant pick up for fans, though not really anyone else.