Sometimes, you just have to review something that goes against every fiber of your being.
While I enjoy Tyler Perry's films, when they're not overly preachy and cliche, so far I'm not a very big fan of his plays. They're overlong, excessively gimmicky, full of pandering, and not exactly what I'd call entertaining. I understand that these performances are precursors, gauges for potential films, but I really just don't quite dig them as much as I do their cinematic adaptations, which I'd consider much more polished and professional. And while I'm no fan of Perry's plays, there are many things I despise much more in the universe, probably too many to list in a review that aims to be under ten thousand words. Let's just whittle it down and get to the straight and narrow: I absolutely loathe Christmas music.
I hate the repetitive nature of it. I hate working for four weeks every year with that garbage on a loop. It sounds sinister to me, like a cruel indoctrination towards fabrications (you know, tooth fairies, almighty deities, so on...), with horribly un-catchy lyrics, borderline idol worship, and is loaded with utter nonsense for the sake of rhyme scheme. I can't stand it. So...naturally when 'A Madea Christmas' came up for review, my name was attached. Apparently my editor likes to play cruel little jokes, and making me hear more ****ing Christmas music definitely qualifies as cruelty.
In Perry's latest "opus," we're greeted with a rendition of O Come, All Ye Faithful before we even meet the characters singing it. This may be the defining moment of 'A Madea Christmas' -- random music that doesn't fit into anything. Hooray! Soon after, we're introduced to another trademark family of dysfunction, the Mansells. Rich beyond their own dreams, this grouping of disgusting human beings don't quite get the meaning of Christmas. Lillian (Chandra Currelley-Young) is a cold hearted harpy, whose only joy this Christmas comes in hoping her daughter (Tamar Davis) gets engaged to Bobby (Shannon Williams), whose family's influence and wealth surpasses that of the Mansell clan. Lillian's husband (Maurice Lauchner) doesn't do much to fight his domineering wife's goals, and their other child (Zuri Craig) is more window dressing than he is an actual person. When Lillian forces her maid Margaret (Cheryl Pepsii Riley) to work on Christmas so as to impress the potential suitor, a catastrophic series of events unfolds, with the end result being Margaret's family being invited over for Christmas.
Cue: Madea (Perry), mouthy Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), and Margaret's children (Alexis Jones, Jeffery Lewis, Tony Grant) invading the Mansell home. They aren't rich...they're not even Chamillionaires...they're just a family that understands the true meaning of Christmas. As they shove this meaning down the Mansell family's collective gullet, dark secrets (!) are revealed, lies unraveled, and Christmas songs sung. It's just like what happened at the Boss household at Christmas, only the exact opposite. Hooray!
Look, I know I went on a tangent to begin this review, but the very low score being given this release is not due to my personal prejudices towards the content. Instead, it's due to the fact that this play is an utter pile of unbelievable, excessive horse shit. First, the characters are such underdeveloped stereotypes that even the actors know not to give a rat's ass. The heads of the Mansell house do their best "snob" imitations, and it comes off as exactly that: a third grade imitation. Imagine yourself with a teacup, pinky finger extended, in your snootiest voice talking about the virtues of a liposuction diet...that's exactly the soulless, emotionless performances you're stuck with for two and a half hours. Meanwhile, the kids of the Mansell clan were written solely to get conception jokes in later on in the show. The help (Margaret and chef Hattie ()) are the only realized characters, but even then they're about as predictable and over-the-top as the play's musical montage finale. The invading family? Why, what could be better than people yelling at the top of their lungs, treating people like crap, and then throwing hissy fits whenever they feel disrespected, after their nonstop badgering?
So, what else besides ridiculous characters and horrible overacting made this play earn such a low score? Let's talk about plot twists, shall we, or the fact that the ones featured in this play make absolutely no sense. The final reveal, the Mansell family dark secret, it makes no sense, considering every single second that happened before it. The pressures put on young China, let's just say the play's main plot suddenly is thrown out the window for cheap theatrics and a "shocking" conclusion, and we're supposed to give a damn.
The music? If you thought the acting was bad, get ready for a shock. Aside from classic songs that don't fit in to the story whatsoever, there's a mixture of very poor, very unfulfilled time filler sprinkled throughout the show. Singing a song about nursery rhymes you used to sing to your kid, when you really show you don't give a shit about your child's happiness? Yeah, that makes sense (and the lyrics to said "song," let's just say that they're capable of waking the comatose, just so they can scream out in agony). None of the music fits in, and only one performer really puts his all into it to provide some power or emphasis.
Something is wrong when Madea is the highlight of a show. Seriously. Madea works best as a complimentary piece, one to bridge stories and characters. When every funny or truthful/insightful moment comes from the...whatever he/she is, then something is wrong. I enjoyed the jokes aimed at Madea's speech patterns, and some of the horribly awful, demeaning words that come out of its mouth, but one realized character in a ten person play doesn't work. At all. It's a bad ratio, and considering the "uproarious" family doesn't even show up for forty five minutes to an hour only highlights this play's problems.
On the bright side, at least the ridiculous Kendrick film vision of Christianity is skewered, as Madea says it best: "Jesus is not a DJ that plays requests." Amen, brother/sister. Amen.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Lionsgate brings 'A Madea Christmas' to Blu-ray on a Region A marked BD25 disc, whose slipcover slightly varies from the art beneath it, due to the lack of the "Tyler Perry Play Collection" banner. This disc is loaded with pre-menu content, in an annoying fashion. Press the status button, and you'll see four minutes worth of advertising. Sounds reasonable, right? Wait, there's three more after that. Then two more. Then two more. Then one more, and none of it is skippable through "top menu." It's as if Lionsgate wanted to hide how much mumbo jumbo was on this disc, and the only way they thought to do it was to make it more annoying than it would have been if they were upfront about it!
Be sure to stay during the credits to hear the marks in the crowd gush over how great this play is.
Umm...If I had to summarize this disc's video in one word, I would probably quote the internet meme: "FAIL."
'A Madea Christmas' is a piece of coal in your stocking. I have no issues with the thick grain, but almost every other element seems like it's there solely to deter from the picture. Close up shots have some solid detail, though facial features are mostly obscured by heavy stage makeup, washing out one of the only positives. The stage lights turn textures into amorphous blobs far too often, even if some of the lighting effects are neat...it just doesn't translate here. Regularly lit shots fare the best, though they show some issues the stylized moments don't. For example: artifacting. Have I said "Hooray!" yet this paragraph? No? Oh...well...artifacting, hooray!
There's plenty of random jaggedness, particularly in the pile of magazines in the middle of the main set. Furniture is the most frequent home of the aforementioned artifacts, and some random aliasing to boot. The random light fluctuation, considering this is a live performance, I can swallow that, but the random shot that cuts off a person's head? Lame! Throw in some real visible banding, particularly in Aunt Bam's pants, a random exaggerated edge, and some digital anomalies, and this one really fits the one word description.
At least twice on this disc (1 hr 27 min 07 sec, 1 hr 29 min 23 sec), for a few seconds to the length of an entire shot, the picture gets digital, splotchy, and macroblocked, or shifts oddly. Rather annoying. Rather defining of a sloppy disc!
The element that fares best on this disc is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio, though even it has its moments where improvement is needed. Rear speaker use isn't limited to crowd reactions, though the music from the back channel is pretty undefined compared to the obvious blaring from the front channels. Musical elements can, at times, seem warring, as the lyrics battle the accompaniment to be heard, with burying going on back and forth. There's solid thump in the bass guitar, which was great, and even the front gets some audience reaction from the front some-odd rows. Dialogue is mostly clear, especially with the obviously visible mics on each performer, in non-singing scenes.
Tyler Perry is a talented man. He's probably the most overworked man in the industry, too. That opens the door for some serious misfires, and 'A Madea Christmas' is one of Perry's most obvious failures. This ain't funny, nor is it touching or emotional. It's poorly performed, and if that isn't enough, the music is enough to make eardrums bleed. This Blu-ray disc also features some funky video, and I don't mean the music. Unless you're the ultimate diehard fan who must own every Perry production, this one is an easy skip, unless you like amazingly trashy reveals. Then, by all means, just rent it.