Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection (Lionsgate)

1 hr. 54 mins.

Starring: Tyler Perry, Eugene Levy, Denise Richards, Doris Roberts, Percy Romeo Miller, Devan Leos, Danielle Campbell, John Amos, Tom Arnold

Directed by: Tyler Perry

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Genre: Comedy

Critic’s Rating: * star (out of 4 stars)

Filmmaker Tyler Perry is the epitome of a habitual individual who sticks with the bread and butter he has carved into a dependable safety net. In this case the so-called “safety net” happens to be the ubiquitous Madea movie series that has given Perry the cache as a movie-making maverick. True, Perry has tried to occasionally branch out beyond the Madea madness and venture into other film-related territory but with marginal success at best. Of course when all else fails the garrulous gun-toting grandma Madea is back into the fold to redeem Perry’s box office momentum.

In odious and strained comedy Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection, Perry revisits his signature southern “diva-in-drag” shtick for the seventh time on the big screen. Yes…you have heard correctly…Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection is the seventh installment of the inexplicably popular film franchise that has put Perry on the cinematic map. Where Perry cannot sustain any credibility in non-Medea movie projects it is quite clear that his devoted masses are transfixed by his motor-mouthed maiden of mayhem.

Perry, who has multi-tasking duties in Witness Protection as star-director-producer, toils aimlessly to instill this fettered farce with the usual needless stereotypical humor and over-the-top recycled silliness. As a special treat, Perry assumes other sketchy characterizations throughout the movie in addition to donning Madea’s gray-haired, bespectacled oldster in frumpy dresses. Relentlessly shapeless, tiring, nonsensical and tediously tepid, Witness Protection may very well be Perry’s most lackluster and ludicrous of all the monotonous Madea editions. Now that is really saying something, right?

The premise centers around the theme of a Bernie Madoff-inspired Ponzi scheme involving a clueless Wall Street CFO named George Needleman (Eugene Levy from the “American Pie” movie series) needing to escape the clutches of a mob boss and his associates that have been carrying on illegal financial dealings through his investment firm run by an unreliable employee (Tom Arnold). Anyhow, Needleman is marked for death by the Malone crime syndicate which means panic time for the hapless accountant and his family.

Since the Needleman clan are in peril Madea’s federal prosecutor nephew Brian (among Perry’s many roles in the movie) arranges for his endangered client to stay with his Aunt Madea in her Atlanta-based home. The predictable and cringe-worthy guffaws concerning a white family moving into Madea’s all-black neighborhood is commented on ad nauseam.

Along with George Needleman as Madea’s guest are his curvaceous second wife Kate (Denise Richards), senile mother Barbara (Emmy-winning actress Doris Roberts formerly from TV’s “Everybody Loves Raymond”) and his two rambunctious kids Cindy and Howie (Danielle Campbell and Devan Leos). The running gag is that the Needlemans are a thorn in the side of the opinionated Madea. Upon Madea’s explanation for the white family hanging out at her place is that they are relatives that lost their pigmentation instantly. Sadly, this is one of the better racial quips uttered in the exasperating Witness Protection.

The Needlemans are not the only folks affected by the mob-connected scam that plagued George’s investment firm. A pastor’s son named Jake (Percy Romeo Miller) has the dubious task of informing his father (John Amos) about losing the church’s heavily funded mortgage account. Poor Jake cannot seem to bring this scandalous news to Daddy dearest.

Everything about Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection seems woefully forced and sloppily concocted to the point you wonder when this toothless laugher meets its lowest common denominator. Throwaway antics about airport security and a copycat sequence about transferring funds made famously by the Oscar-winning Whoopie Goldberg from Ghost are mixed in for uneasy and non-amusing ridiculing. The sassiness is supposed to be the endearing trait that the audience appreciates about the flippant Madea. Still, Madea comes off as a meddling mouthy magpie.

It is disheartening to see the veteran Levy stuck in such a corrosive clunker. One would probably be even sympathetic towards Tom Arnold for being part of this jocular junk (remember, Arnold is no stranger to being associated with cinematic sludge in the past). Only Roberts garners some healthy offbeat giggles as the old out-of-touch fragile white mother that does not seem too versed in contemporary black-oriented sensibilities.

Disposable, embarrassing and scattershot, Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection serves nothing more than a convenient way for Perry to get an instant profit in hopes of ominously funding another Madea-oriented miscues. It is public knowledge that Perry has taken severe heat from critics and fellow artists alike throughout the years pertaining to his penchant for minstrel-induced showcases involving exaggerated black caricatures. Perry does have the immense following that will mindlessly cater to the cartoonish cravings of Madea and her various misadventures.

It will not be long before Perry is mining cheap laughs as Madea gets involved with military duty or stumbles across a job as a hostage negotiator. Evidently there is bigger fish to fry than worrying about an eighth installment of another Tyler Perry/Madea romp such as lobbying for the discontinuation of another Adam Sandler fratboy comedy.

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